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In vivo gene transfer of recombinant E1-deficient adenoviruses results in early and late viral gene expression that elicits a host immune response, limiting the duration of transgene expression and the use of adenoviruses for gene therapy. The prokaryotic Cre-lox P recombination system was adapted to generate recombinant adenoviruses with extended deletions in the viral genome (referred to here as deleted viruses) in order to minimize expression of immunogenic and/or cytotoxic viral proteins. As an example, an adenovirus with a 25-kb deletion that lacked E1, E2, E3, and late gene expression with viral titers similar to those achieved with first-generation vectors and less than 0.5% contamination with E1-deficient virus was produced. Gene transfer was similar in HeLa cells, mouse hepatoma cells, and primary mouse hepatocytes in vitro and in vivo as determined by measuring reporter gene expression and DNA transfer. However, transgene expression and deleted viral DNA concentrations were not stable and declined to undetectable levels much more rapidly than those found for first-generation vectors. Intravenous administration of deleted vectors in mice resulted in no hepatocellular injury relative to that seen with first-generation vectors. The mechanism for stability of first-generation adenovirus vectors (E1a deleted) appeared to be linked in part to their ability to replicate in transduced cells in vivo and in vitro. Furthermore, the deleted vectors were stabilized in the presence of undeleted first-generation adenovirus vectors. These results have important consequences for the development of these and other nonintegrating vectors for gene therapy.