A strong transcription enhancer was identified in the genomic DNA (235 kb) of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a ubiquitous and severe pathogen of the herpesvirus group. Cotransfection of enhancerless SV40 DNA with randomly fragmented HCMV DNA yielded two SV40-HCMV recombinant viruses that had incorporated overlapping segments of HCMV DNA to substitute for the missing SV40 enhancer. Within HCMV, these enhancer sequences are located upstream of the transcription initiation site of the major immediate-early gene, between nucleotides -118 and -524. Deletion studies with the HCMV enhancer, which harbors a variety of repeated sequence motifs, show that different subsets of this enhancer can substitute for the SV40 enhancer. The HCMV enhancer, which seems to have little cell type or species preference, is severalfold more active than the SV40 enhancer. It is the strongest enhancer we have analyzed so far, a property that makes it a useful component of eukaryotic expression vectors.