We have developed a novel DNA expression system, based on the Semliki Forest virus (SFV) replicon, which combines a wide choice of animal cell hosts, high efficiency and ease of use. DNA of interest is cloned into SFV plasmid vectors that serve as templates for in vitro synthesis of recombinant RNA. The RNA is transfected with virtually 100% efficiency into animal tissue culture cells by means of electroporation. Within the cell, the recombinant RNA drives its own replication and capping and leads to massive production of the heterologous protein while competing out the host protein synthesis. The expression system also includes an in vivo packaging procedure whereby recombinant RNA is packaged into infectious virus particles using cotransfection with packaging-deficient helper RNA molecules. The resulting high titer recombinant virus stock can be used to infect a wide range of animal cells with subsequent high expression of the heterologous gene product, but without expression of any structural proteins of the helper. The infected cells produce protein for up to 75 hours post infection after which the heterologous product can constitute as much as 25% of the total cell protein. The general utility of the system is demonstrated through the expression of human transferrin receptor, mouse dihydrofolate reductase, chick lysozyme and Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase.