Impaired fibrinolysis, resulting from increased plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) or reduced tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA) plasma levels, may predispose the individual to subacute thrombosis in sepsis and inflammation. The objective of these studies was to show that adenovirus-mediated gene transfer could increase systemic plasma t-PA levels and thrombolytic capacity in animal model systems. Recombinant adenovirus vectors were constructed that express either human wild type or PAI-1-resistant t-PA from the cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter. Both t-PA-deficient (t-PA(-/-)) and PAI-1-overexpressing transgenic mice were infected by intravenous injection of these viruses. Intravenous injection of recombinant adenovirus resulted in liver gene transfer, t-PA synthesis, and secretion into the plasma. Virus dose, human t-PA antigen, and activity concentrations in plasma and extent of lysis of a 125I-fibrin-labeled pulmonary embolism were all closely correlated. Plasma t-PA antigen and activity were increased approximately 1,000-fold above normal levels. Clot lysis was significantly increased in mice injected with a t-PA-expressing virus, but not in mice injected with saline or an irrelevant adenovirus. Comparable levels of enzyme activity and clot lysis were obtained with wild type and inhibitor-resistant t-PA viruses. Adenovirus-mediated t-PA gene transfer was found to augment clot lysis as early as 4 hours after infection, but expression levels subsided within 7 days. Adenovirus-mediated transfer of a t-PA gene can effectively increase plasma fibrinolytic activity and either restore (in t-PA-deficient mice) or augment (in PAI-1-overexpressing mice) the thrombolytic capacity in simple animal models of defective fibrinolysis.