Despite recent advances in the management of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerotic coronary artery disease has remained a prevalent cause of mortality and morbidity among industrialized nations. Although very effective in retarding the progression of ischemic heart disease, pharmacotherapies fail to provide long-term cardio-protection and to effectively recruit contractile function of the damaged left ventricle. Moreover, in many patients the lack of compliance to the daily drug administration further reduces the potential benefit of these strategies. The recent advent of gene-based approaches, however, may represent a potential alternative to target ischemic cardiovascular diseases. During the last decade, gene transfer protocols have shown significant improvement in experimental and clinical applications, including vascular restenosis, chronic peripheral arterial insufficiency, chronic myocardial ischemia, myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury, and congestive heart failure. Gene-based therapy using potentially beneficial gene sequences represents a promising strategy for site-specific cardiovascular treatment. Transduction of host cells may lead to prolonged bioavailability of the transgene product and may overcome the need for continuous or repetitive drug administrations. Although potential benefits are obvious, they need to be carefully balanced against untoward (inflammatory) side effects. In this review, we discuss the significance of this novel therapeutic strategy, the lessons we have learned from animal studies and how we can envision future use of gene-based strategies in clinical practice.