The intestinal tract has many features that make it an attractive target for therapeutic gene transfer. In this study, replication-defective adenoviral vectors were used to explore parameters that may be important in administering gene therapy vectors to the intestine. After surgically accessing the intestine, an E1-, E3-deleted adenoviral vector encoding beta-galactosidase (beta-Gal) was directly injected into various regions of the small and large intestine of rats and rabbits. Significant transduction of the tissue was observed and histochemical staining was used to identify enterocytes as the primary targets of gene transfer. Expression of beta-Gal did not differ substantially when the virus was administered to the duodenum, ileum, or colon. When the vector was directly administered to segments of the distal ileum containing a Peyer's patch, transgene expression was approximately 10-fold higher than in segments lacking a Peyer's patch. In the Peyer's patches, a high level of expression was localized to epithelial cells, potentially M cells, overlying the lymphoid follicle domes. Transduction of these cells could have application in DNA-mediated oral vaccination. Administration of an adenoviral vector encoding a secreted alkaline phosphatase to the lumen resulted in expression and secretion of this gene product into the circulation. This finding demonstrates the potential of enterocytes to serve as heterotopic sites for the synthesis of heterologous gene products that would be secreted into the lumen of the intestinal tract or into the bloodstream.