Most DNA replication origins in eukaryotes localize to nontranscribed regions, and there are no reports of origins within constitutively expressed genes. This observation has led to the proposal that there may be an incompatibility between origin function and location within a ubiquitously expressed gene. The biochemical and functional evidence presented here demonstrates that an origin of bidirectional replication (OBR) resides within the constitutively expressed housekeeping gene CAD, which encodes the first three reactions of de novo uridine biosynthesis (carbamoyl-phosphate synthetase, aspartate carbamoyltransferase, and dihydroorotase). The OBR was localized to a 5-kb region near the center of the Syrian hamster CAD transcriptional unit. DNA replication initiates within this region in the single-copy CAD gene in Syrian baby hamster kidney cells and in the large chromosomal amplicons that were generated after selection with N-phosphonacetyl-L-aspartate, a specific inhibitor of CAD. DNA synthesis also initiates within this OBR in autonomously replicating extrachromosomal amplicons (CAD episomes) located in an N-phosphonacetyl-L-aspartate-resistant clone (5P20) of CHOK1 cells. CAD episomes consist entirely of a multimer of Syrian hamster CAD cosmid sequences (cCAD1). These data limit the functional unit of replication initiation and timing control to the 42 kb of Syrian hamster sequences contained in cCAD1. In addition, the data indicate that the origin recognition machinery is conserved across species, since the same OBR region functions in both Syrian and Chinese hamster cells. Importantly, while cCAD1 exhibits characteristics of a complete replicon, we have not detected autonomous replication directly following transfection. Since the CAD episome was generated after excision of chromosomally integrated transfected cCAD1 sequences, we propose that prior localization within a chromosome may be necessary to "license" some biochemically defined OBRs to render them functional.