Background. The mechanism of gene transfer into hepatocytes by the hydrodynamics-based transfection procedure is not clearly understood. It has been shown that, after a hydrodynamic injection, a large proportion of plasmid DNA remains intact in the liver where it is bound to plasma membrane and suggested that this DNA could be responsible for the efficiency of the transfection. Methods. We have investigated the problem by giving mice a hydrodynamic injection of isotonic NaCl, followed at different time intervals by a conventional injection of DNA, cold or labelled with S, with cDNA of luciferase as a reporter gene. Then, we determined the consequences of that dual injection on luciferase expression and on DNA uptake by the liver and its intracellular fate. By such experiments, it is possible to establish the time dependency of the induction of liver changes caused by a hydrodynamic injection on the one hand and the expression and DNA uptake and fate on the other. Moreover, some experiments have been performed on primary cultures of hepatocytes isolated after a hydrodynamic injection of DNA. Results. When DNA is given to mice by a conventional injection a few seconds after an hydrodynamic injection of isotonic NaCl, luciferase expression in the liver is considerably lower than that observed after a single hydrodynamic injection of the plasmid. On the other hand, as assessed by the rate of DNA degradation and by centrifugation results obtained after injection of S-DNA, the uptake and the intracellular fate of the bulk of DNA are similar whether DNA is administered by a single hydrodynamic injection or by a conventional injection given up to at least 2 h after a hydrodynamic injection of isotonic NaCl. Hepatocytes isolated a few minutes after a hydrodynamic injection exhibit a maximal expression that does not depend on the large amount of DNA that remains bound to the plasma membrane for a relatively long time. Conclusions. Our results show that the efficiency of hydrodynamics-based transfection depends on a process that takes place very quickly after injection and is not linked to a delay of DNA degradation and the persistence of a large proportion of DNA bound to hepatocytes of the plasma membrane, strongly suggesting that expression after a hydrodynamic injection is caused by a small proportion of DNA molecules that rapidly enter the cytosol probably by plasma membrane pores generated by the hydrodynamic pressure.