Methods to improve plasmid-mediated transgene expression are needed for gene medicine and gene vaccination applications. To maintain a low risk of insertional mutagenesis-mediated gene activation, expression-augmenting sequences would ideally function to improve transgene expression from transiently transfected intact plasmid, but not from spurious genomically integrated vectors. We report herein the development of potent minimal, antibiotic-free, high-manufacturing-yield mammalian expression vectors incorporating rationally designed additive combinations of expression enhancers. The SV40 72 bp enhancer incorporated upstream of the cytomegalovirus (CMV) enhancer selectively improved extrachromosomal transgene expression. The human T-lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I) R region, incorporated downstream of the CMV promoter, dramatically increased mRNA translation efficiency, but not overall mRNA levels, after transient transfection. A similar mRNA translation efficiency increase was observed with plasmid vectors incorporating and expressing the protein kinase R-inhibiting adenoviral viral associated (VA)1 RNA. Strikingly, HTLV-I R and VA1 did not increase transgene expression or mRNA translation efficiency from plasmid DNA after genomic integration. The vector platform, when combined with electroporation delivery, further increased transgene expression and improved HIV-1 gp120 DNA vaccine-induced neutralizing antibody titers in rabbits. These antibiotic-free vectors incorporating transient expression enhancers are safer, more potent alternatives to improve transgene expression for DNA therapy or vaccination.