This study of 52 Swiss patients with Hodgkin's disease (HD), including 17 cases with a high content of Sternberg-Reed (SR) and Hodgkin (H) cells, was performed to determine the percentage of cases harboring Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA and/or clonal rearrangements of Ig and T- cell antigen receptor (TcR) genes in diagnostic lymph node biopsies. Special attention was drawn to the heavily infiltrated cases to detect a possible relationship between clonality and EBV DNA identification. EBV DNA was detected by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using three different sets of specific primers. The viral origin of the amplification products was confirmed by hybridization with a radiolabeled internal probe or demonstration of a specific Sma I restriction site. Genomic rearrangement of Ig and TcR genes was studied by Southern blot analysis. EBV DNA was identified by PCR in 38 of 48 cases (79%). Clonal rearrangements were identified in only 4 of 52 cases (Ig genes) and were independent of the degree of infiltration by SR cells and the presence of EBV DNA. The absence of EBV DNA in three cases with numerous SR cells (only one of them showed clonal rearrangement) and the presence of only a few viral copies in four further cases with numerous SR cells (semiquantitative analysis of viral DNA by PCR was performed in 26 EBV-positive cases) suggests that this virus is modulating rather than an etiologic agent in a considerable proportion of HD cases.