We have constructed two recombinant plasmid vectors for direct expression and amplification of cDNA in mammalian cells. Each vector carries two dominant selectable markers (the bacterial neo gene and the mouse DHFR gene), a promoter sequence (viral LTR in pAV009/A+, and sheep metallothionein promoter in pMT010/A+), a polyadenylation signal sequence, and a Bam HI site to allow insertion of cDNA. We have used these vectors to prepare recombinant clones for the expression of rat phenylalanine hydroxylase (PH) in LTK- cells. Selection of transformants with neomycin followed by selection of the transformants in methotrexate led to a 30- to 60-fold amplification of the DHFR marker and co-amplification of the PH cDNA, with a corresponding increase in the level of PH mRNA and enzyme polypeptide. The expressed enzyme has a subunit molecular weight of 50,000 which corresponds to the W- allele of rat liver PH. PH activity was detected in the transfected cells by enzymatic measurement of the conversion of [14C]phenylalanine to [14C]tyrosine, and by growth of these cells in a tyrosine-free culture medium. Expression of rat PH in cell culture should facilitate the analysis of the biochemical properties of this enzyme.