Transgenic techniques, which allow the introduction of exogenous genes into the genome of experimental animals, promise to bridge the gap between the in vitro observations made by molecular and cellular biologists on cardiac and vascular cells in tissue culture and the physiology and pathology of the whole organ system. One such application of these techniques is tissue targeting: by genetic manipulation to direct expression of a protein--such as a signaling peptide, a growth factor receptor, or an oncogene involved in cell growth--to a tissue where it normally would not be expressed (or where expression is tightly controlled) by fusing it to the transcriptional control sequences of another gene normally expressed in that tissue. In the cardiovascular system, regulatory sequences for cardiomyocyte-specific proteins, vascular endothelium-specific proteins, and smooth muscle-specific proteins can be used to target heterologous genes to their respective tissues in transgenic animals. The effects that such perturbations have on organ physiology and intracellular and intercellular communication can be observed by applying established physiological and molecular approaches. In this review, we highlight some tissue-specific genes from cardiac and vascular cell types whose regulatory sequences may be used to target heterologous proteins; we discuss neutral "reporter" proteins and signal transduction components as paradigms for the application of this technique; and we briefly touch on the potentials and pitfalls of transgenic approaches to molecular physiology.