The effect of retention time of plasmid DNA in mouse lung on the level of transgene expression after intravenous administration was examined. Using CMV driven expression system with luciferase gene as a reporter and preinjection of free cationic liposomes into the animal as means of manipulating the retention time of plasmid DNA, we demonstrated that naked plasmid DNA is effective in transfecting cells in the lung by intravenous administration. An increase in DNA retention time in the lung results in a higher level of gene expression. Liposomes composed of cationic lipids with alkyl chains exhibited better activity than cholesterol-based cationic liposomes to retain the plasmid DNA in the lung. The level and patterns of gene expression obtained appeared similar to those seen in animals transfected by DNA-liposome complexes. These results suggest that prolonging the exposure time of DNA to the target cells in vivo may be an important strategy in achieving a high level of gene expression. Our data also introduce a possibility that the function of cationic liposomes in lipoplex-mediated transfection in vivo is to extend the interaction time of DNA with the cells.