We describe the ability of novel episomally maintained vectors to efficiently promote gene expression in embryonic stem (ES) cells as well as in established mouse cell lines. Extrachromosomal maintenance of our vectors is based on the presence of polyoma virus DNA sequences, including the origin of replication harboring a mutant enhancer (PyF101), and a modified version of the polyoma early region (LT20) encoding the large T antigen only. Reporter gene expression from such extrachromosomally replicating vectors was approximately 10-fold higher than expression from replication-incompetent control plasmids. After transfection of different ES cell lines, the polyoma virus-derived plasmid variant pMGD20neo (7.2 kb) was maintained episomally in 16% of the G418-resistant clones. No chromosomal integration of pMGD20neo vector DNA was detected in ES cells that contained episomal vector DNA even after long term passage. The vector's replication ability was not altered after insertion of up to 10 kb hprt gene fragments. Besides undifferentiated ES cells, the polyoma-based vectors were also maintained extrachromosomally in differentiating ES cells and embryoid bodies as well as in established mouse cell lines.