Abstract We evaluated the extent to which anatomic barriers to vector penetration might influence the distribution of successful in vivo gene transfer into the normal arterial wall. A double-balloon catheter technique with infusion pressures of 100 to 400 mm Hg was used to infuse microscopic tracer particles of the size range of liposomes and viral vectors into normal elastic arteries of sheep. Localization of the tracer particles in tissue sections by light, fluorescence, and electron microscopy suggested that vector-sized particles were delivered to the intima by direct infusion and to the adventitia via the arterial vasa vasorum. Particles were virtually absent from the arterial media. To test the predictions made from the particle studies, we repeated the infusion protocol with high-titer adenoviral vectors. Gene transfer occurred at high levels in the intima and along the adventitial vasa vasorum but again was virtually absent within the media. The ability of medial smooth muscle cells to be transduced was established in separate experiments with a high-pressure (5 atm) porous balloon infusion catheter. We conclude that (1) the anatomy of the normal elastic arterial wall imposes significant limitations on the penetration of particles in the size range of most gene-transfer vectors and (2) the distribution of in vivo gene transfer with adenoviral vectors is correctly predicted by the distribution of inert tracer particles. These findings have important implications for the design of arterial gene-transfer and gene-therapy protocols.