We have designed a screen to identify mutants specifically affecting kinetochore function in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The selection procedure was based on the generation of "synthetic acentric" minichromosomes. "Synthetic acentric" minichromosomes contain a centromere locus, but lack centromere activity due to combination of mutations in centromere DNA and in a chromosomal gene (CEP) encoding a putative centromere protein. Ten conditional lethal cep mutants were isolated, seven were found to be alleles of NDC10 (CEP2) encoding the 110-kD protein of yeast kinetochore. Three mutants defined a novel essential gene CEP3. The CEP3 product (Cep3p) is a 71-kD protein with a potential DNA-binding domain (binuclear Zn-cluster). At nonpermissive temperature the cep3 cells arrest with an undivided nucleus and a short mitotic spindle. At permissive temperature the cep3 cells are unable to support segregation of minichromosomes with mutations in the central part of element III of yeast centromere DNA. These minichromosomes, when isolated from cep3 cultures, fail to bind bovine microtubules in vitro. The sum of genetic, cytological and biochemical data lead us to suggest that the Cep3 protein is a DNA-binding component of yeast centromere. Molecular mass and sequence comparison confirm that Cep3p is the p64 component of centromere DNA binding complex Cbf3 (Lechner, 1994).