Systemic gene therapy involves the transfer into the body of a gene whose protein product reaches the blood and has a beneficial effect on a patient. Both retroviral and adenovirus-associated viral vectors have resulted in stable but only moderate systemic levels of blood proteins. Adenoviral vectors have resulted in very high levels of expression that diminishes over days or weeks. Hepatic gene therapy has achieved levels of the anticoagulant protein C in blood that would protect against spontaneous thromboses in homozygous protein-C deficiency, and levels of tissue plasminogen activator that can lyse pulmonary emboli. Hypercholesterolemia has been ameliorated transiently by transfer of the low-density lipoprotein receptor gene into the livers of animals with familial hypercholesterolemia or by promoting lipid transfer via a variety of alternative mechanisms. Hypertension has been reduced by the transfer of genes for kallikrein or atrial natriuretic peptide into the liver, or by expressing antisense for the angiotensin II type 1 receptor after intravenous injection in neonates. Finally, fasting but not fed hyperglycemia has been ameliorated in animal models of diabetes by transfer of an insulin gene into the liver or by expression of insulin from implanted fibroblasts. Gene therapy has the potential to treat these cardiovascular diseases. However, improvements in levels of long-term expression and the ability to regulate expression in response to physiologic changes will be required before this approach will be implemented for most of these disorders in humans. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Inc.