Background: Gene transfer studies in primary T cells have suffered from the limitations of conventional viral transduction or transfection techniques. Replication-defective adenoviral vectors are an attractive alternative for gene delivery. However, naive lymphocytes are not readily susceptible to infection with adenoviruses due to insufficient expression of the coxsackie/adenovirus receptor. Results: To render T cells susceptible to adenoviral gene transfer, we have developed three new murine transgenic lines in which expression of the human coxsackie/adenovirus receptor (hCAR) with a truncated cytoplasmic domain (hCARΔcyt) is limited to thymocytes and lymphocytes under direction of a human CD2 mini-gene. hCARΔcyt.CD2 transgenic mice were crossed with DO11.10 T cell receptor transgenic mice (DO11.hCARΔcyt) to allow developmental studies in a defined, clonal T cell population. Expression of hCARΔcyt enabled adenoviral transduction of resting primary CD4+ T cells, differentiated effector T cells and thymocytes from DO11.hCARΔcyt with high efficiency. Expression of hCARΔcyt transgene did not perturb T cell development in these mice and adenoviral transduction of DO11.hCARΔcyt T cells did not alter their activation status, functional responses or differentiative potential. Adoptive transfer of the transduced T cells into normal recipients did not modify their physiologic localization. Conclusion: The DO11.hCARΔcyt transgenic model thus allows efficient gene transfer in primary T cell populations and will be valuable for novel studies of T cell activation and differentiation. © 2002 Hurez et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.