A cell-free expression system using an Escherichia coli extract was adapted for large-scale expression and purification of mammalian membrane proteins. The system was tested with a set of human membrane proteins of different sizes, numbers of transmembrane domains, oligomeric arrangements, and native membrane locations. Tens of milligrams of protein were readily expressed and purified from an overnight cell-free reaction. Both reaction 'mode A' (proteins were expressed as precipitant) and 'mode B' (proteins were expressed in the presence of mild detergents to keep them soluble) were investigated. The combination of 'mode B' and the right detergents, used in the subsequent extraction and purification steps, is critical for obtaining properly folded proteins (CX32 and VDAC1) that can be crystallized and diffracted (VDAC1). The E. coli cell-free system is capable of efficient expression of many mammalian membrane proteins. However, fine-tuning of the system, especially to facilitate proper protein folding, will be required for each specific target.