We have studied the factors that influence the efficiency of infection of human fetal and adult pancreatic endocrine cells with adenovirus, murine retrovirus, and lentivirus vectors all expressing the green fluorescent protein (Ad-GFP, MLV-GFP, and Lenti-GFP, respectively). Adenoviral but not retroviral vectors efficiently infected intact pancreatic islets and fetal islet-like cell clusters (ICCs) in suspension. When islets and ICCs were plated in monolayer culture, infection efficiency with all three vital vectors increased. Ad-GFP infected 90-95% of the cells, whereas infection with MLV-GFP and Lenti-GFP increased only slightly. Both exposure to hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (HGF/SF) and dispersion of the cells by removal from the culture dish and replating had substantial positive effects on the efficiency of infection with retroviral vectors. Studies of virus entry and cell replication revealed that cell dispersion and stimulation by HGF/SF may be acting through both mechanisms to increase the efficiency of retrovirus-mediated gene transfer. Although HGF/SF and cell dispersion increased the efficiency of infection with MLV-GFP, only rare cells with weak staining for insulin were infected, whereas ~25% of β- cells were infected with Lenti-GFP. We conclude that adenovirus is the most potent vector for ex vivo overexpression of foreign genes in adult endocrine pancreatic cells and is the best vector for applications where high-level but transient expression is desired. Under the optimal conditions of cell dispersion plus HGF/SF, infection with MLV and lentiviral vectors is reasonably efficient and stable, but only lentiviral vectors efficiently infect pancreatic β-cells.