Nonviral gene therapy approaches face the challenge of achieving stable gene expression in target organs and tissues. We used fluorescence microscopy and in vivo imaging after rapid, high-volume delivery of plasmid DNA (pDNA) encoding DsRed and luciferase as products of the same mRNA to detect localized gene expression in liver. Plasmids encoding the luciferase gene transcriptionally regulated by cellular and viral promoters were injected under similar conditions to test for potency and stability of gene expression in the liver of adult mice. Animals were imaged at 3, 6, 12, 24, and 48 hr and followed up at 1- to 2-week intervals over 2 months to identify maximum and persistent luciferase expression after injection of equimolar amounts of each plasmid. Emitted light representing luciferase expression was detected as early as 3 hr after pDNA infusion, reaching maximum levels at 12 hr for promoters containing viral sequences and at 24 hr for elements from human genes. Viral elements displayed 10- to 20-fold higher peak levels of expression but also yielded the most dramatic decline in expression over 8 weeks. In contrast, only a moderate decrease was observed for the cellular ubiquitin C promoter during that same period of time. Both promoter-deleted and phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK)-containing plasmids failed to maintain luciferase expression at levels above the limit of detection. These results demonstrate fine temporal analyses of reporter gene activity using promoters of various strength, suggesting an effective and reproducible method for studying gene therapy vectors in vivo.