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We examined the ability of the human surfactant protein B (SP-B) promoter to confer cell specificity of transgene expression in an adenoviral vector. Using similar replication-deficient adenoviruses (rAd), we compared lacZ reporter gene expression driven by the human SP-B promoter (rAd.SPBlacZ) with the ubiquitously expressed Rous sarcoma virus promoter (rAd.RSVlacZ). rAd.SPBlacZ expressed lacZ in H-441 and A549 lung epithelial cell lines and not in HeLa cells whereas rAd.RSVlacZ expressed in all three cell lines. In primary human fetal lung fibroblasts, beta-galactosidase activity from rAd.RSVlacZ transduction increased in a dose-dependent manner whereas activity from rAd.SPBlacZ remained low. In mixed cell cultures prepared from human fetal lung explants that contained fibroblasts and type II cells, X-Gal staining localized rAd.SPBlacZ expression to only type II cells whereas rAd.RSVlacZ expressed in both cell types. In 24-wk gestation human fetal tissue explants infected ex vivo, the RSV promoter directed lacZ expression in lung, trachea, heart, liver, and esophagus, whereas with the SP-B promoter lacZ was expressed only in lung, specifically in air space-lining cells. This specificity was maintained in vivo. lacZ expression was undetectable in lung and other tissues after intravenous administration of rAd.SPBlacZ whereas rAd.RSV-lacZ expressed primarily in liver. After intratracheal instillation of rAd.SPBlacZ into mice, X-Gal staining localized expression to type II and Clara cells. In contrast, rAd.RSVlacZ expressed in all pulmonary epithelial cell types. Our results indicate that the SP-B promoter may be useful in targeting type II and Clara cells for gene therapy of conditions such as inherited deficiency of SP-B.