Clinical evidence suggests that hepatitis C virus (HCV) is etiologically involved in hepatic cancer and liver cirrhosis. To investigate whether the HCV nonstructural protein NS3 has oncogenic activity, NIH 3T3 cells were transfected with an expression vector containing cDNA for the 5'- or 3'-half sequence of the HCV genome segment encoding NS3. Only cells transfected with the 5'-half cDNA rapidly proliferated, lost contact inhibition, grew anchorage independently in soft agar, and formed tumors in nude mice. PCR analysis confirmed the presence of the 5'-half DNA in the transfectants. These results suggest that the 5' region of the HCV genome segment encoding NS3 is involved in cell transformation.