Gene electrotransfer is an efficient and reproducible nonviral gene transfer technique useful for the nonpermanent expression of therapeutic transgenes. The present study established optimal conditions for the electrotransfer of reporter genes into mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) isolated from rat bone marrow by their selective adherence to tissue-culture plasticware. The electrotransfer of the lacZ reporter gene was optimized by adjusting the pulse electric field intensity, electric pulse type, electropulsation buffer conductivity and electroporation temperature. LacZ electrotransfection into MSCs was optimal at 1500 V cm(-1) with pre-incubation in Spinner's minimum essential medium buffer at 22 degrees C. Under these conditions beta-galactosidase expression was achieved in 29+/-3% of adherent cells 48 h post transfection. The kinetics of beta-galactosidase activity revealed maintenance of beta-galactosidase production for at least 10 days. Moreover, electroporation did not affect the MSC potential for multidifferentiation; electroporated MSCs differentiated into osteoblastic, adipogenic and chondrogenic lineages to the same extent as cells that were not exposed to electric pulses. Thus, this study demonstrates the feasibility of efficient transgene electrotransfer into MSCs while preserving cell viability and multipotency.