OBJECTIVE: To examine the possibility of reducing ischemia-reperfusion injury (I/R injury) to the mouse liver by in vivo adenovirus-mediated gene transfer of the antiapoptotic human Bcl-2 gene. SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Ischemia-reperfusion injury has been demonstrated in a number of clinically relevant diseases such as myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular disease, sepsis, peripheral vascular disease, and organ transplantation. In this regard, apoptosis plays a central role. METHODS: Normal C57BL/6 mice were used. An adenovirus (deltaE1) vector containing the human Bcl-2 gene was developed in the authors' laboratory. An adenovirus vector encoding an irrelevant gene (beta-galactosidase, AdCMVLacZ) was used as a control. Taking advantage of the hepatotropic properties of adenovirus vectors, gene transfer was performed with 1 x 10(9) plaque-forming units by intravenous tail injection, 48 hours before the ischemic injury. Ischemic-reperfusion injury was induced by temporal and segmental occlusion of hepatic blood flow. Aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase, and lactate dehydrogenase activity was measured using standard assays. Liver biopsies were obtained before and 6 hours after I/R injury for morphologic assessment, and apoptosis was determined in situ with a histochemical assay. RESULTS: The expression of AdCMVhBcl-2 vector was confirmed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and functionally validated in apoptotic studies in endothelial cells. Expression of the Bcl-2 gene protects against I/R injury, as shown by a significant decrease in transaminases (p < 0.05) and necrosis and apoptosis (p < 0.001), and permanent survival (p < 0.0001), compared with sham-operated animals and animals treated with AdCMVLacZ. CONCLUSIONS: Genetic modification of the liver to induce cytoprotection has potential applications to prevent I/R injury to the liver in surgical interventions, including liver transplantation.