A DNA-transfection protocol has been developed that makes use of a synthetic cationic lipid, N-[1-(2,3-dioleyloxy)propyl]-N,N,N-trimethylammonium chloride (DOTMA). Small unilamellar liposomes containing DOTMA interact spontaneously with DNA to form lipid-DNA complexes with 100% entrapment of the DNA. DOTMA facilitates fusion of the complex with the plasma membrane of tissue culture cells, resulting in both uptake and expression of the DNA. The technique is simple, highly reproducible, and effective for both transient and stable expression of transfected DNA. Depending upon the cell line, lipofection is from 5- to >100-fold more effective than either the calcium phosphate or the DEAE-dextran transfection technique.