We constructed a human cDNA expression vector by combining an episomal Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) vector with the expression cassette from the transient-expression vector, pCDM8. This new vector, designated pEBS7, exhibited high-level expression of reporter genes in normal and repair-deficient xeroderma pigmentosum cell lines. Reconstruction experiments indicated that marker genes diluted to a frequency of 10(-5) can be rescued on a single transfection dish. Moreover, derivative cell lines that constitutively express the gene encoding EBV nuclear antigen 1 exhibited a tenfold enhancement in the frequency of rescue of marker genes. The feasibility of preparing large-scale directional or nondirectional cDNA libraries in pEBS7 was demonstrated and reconstruction experiments indicated that marker genes could be rescued from either library with equal efficiency. These results establish a high-efficiency system for the isolation of genes by direct phenotypic selection in human mutant cell lines.