In a previous study we showed that genomic constructs were expressed more efficiently in transgenic mice than constructs that were identical except for the lack of introns. Using the mouse metallothionein promoter-rat growth hormone gene construct as a model, we show that the first intron of the rat growth hormone gene is essential for high-level expression, whereas the other three introns are less effective. Several heterologous introns placed 3' of the coding region of an intronless rat growth hormone gene are also ineffective. However, insertion of some heterologous introns between the metallothionein promoter and the growth hormone gene improves expression. To determine whether addition of heterologous introns would provide a general strategy for improving expression, we have tested them in conjunction with other intronless genes and with different promoters.