Recombinant simian virus 40 viruses carrying rabbit beta-globin cDNA failed to express the beta-globin sequence unless an intron was included in the transcription unit. The addition of either beta-globin IVS1 or IVS2 caused a 400-fold increase in RNA production. Stable beta-globin RNA production required sequences in IVS2 that were very close to the splice sites and that coincided with those needed for mRNA splicing. In addition to the recombinant viruses, intron-dependent expression was observed with both replicating and nonreplicating plasmid vectors in short-term transfections of cultured animal cells. Unlike transcriptional enhancer elements, IVS2 failed to increase stable RNA production when it was placed downstream of the polyadenylation site. Using a plasmid vector system to survey different inserted sequences for their dependence on introns for expression, we found that the presence of IVS2 stimulated the expression of these sequences 2- to 500-fold. Sequences from the transcribed region of the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase gene, a gene that lacks an intervening sequence, permitted substantial intron-independent expression (greater than 100-fold increase) in the plasmid vector system.