The ability to restrict gene delivery and expression to particular cell types is of paramount importance for many types of gene therapy, especially in the lung. The alveolar epithelial type I (ATI) cell, in particular, is an attractive cell type to target, as it comprises 95% of the internal surface area of the lung. We demonstrate, through microinjection of fluorescently labeled plasmids, that a DNA sequence within the rat T1α promoter was able to mediate ATI cell-specific plasmid DNA nuclear import due to the binding of ATI-enriched transcription factors. Promoter deletion analysis and site-directed mutagenesis of specific transcription-factor-binding sites within the +101 to − 200 bp region of the T1α promoter identified HNF3 and TTF-1 as critical transcription factors for import. To test for nuclear import in vivo, plasmids expressing GFP from the CMV promoter were delivered into the lungs of mice by electroporation and evaluated immunohistochemically 48 h later. Plasmids carrying the 1.3 kbp T1α sequence resulted in GFP expression almost exclusively in ATI cells. This represents a new and highly efficient way to target a specific lung epithelial cell type both in vitro and in vivo based on the restriction of DNA nuclear import.