Gene transfer to modify donor heart function during transplantation has significant therapeutic implications. Recent studies by our laboratory in transgenic mice have shown that overexpression of beta2-adrenergic receptors (beta2-ARs) leads to significantly enhanced cardiac function. Thus, we investigated the functional consequences of adenovirus-mediated gene transfer of the human beta2-AR in a rat heterotopic heart transplant model. Donor hearts received 1 ml of solution containing 1 x 1010 p.f.u. of adenovirus encoding the beta2-AR or an empty adenovirus as a control. Five days after transplantation, basal left ventricular (LV) pressure was measured using an isolated, isovolumic heart perfusion apparatus. A subset of hearts was stimulated with the beta2-AR agonist, zinterol. Treatment with the beta2-AR virus resulted in global myocardial gene transfer with a six-fold increase in mean beta-AR density which corresponded to a significant increase in basal contractility (LV + dP/dtmax, control: 3152.1 +/- 286 versus beta2-AR, 6250.6* +/- 432.5 mmHg/s; n = 10, *P < 0.02). beta2-AR overexpressing hearts also had higher contractility after zinterol administration compared with control hearts. Our results indicate that myocardial function of the transplanted heart can be enhanced by the adenovirus-mediated delivery of beta2-ARs. Thus, genetic manipulation may offer a novel therapeutic strategy to improve donor heart function in the post- operative setting.