Some acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related lymphomas (ARLs) are infected with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), although the frequency and importance of this association is disputed. Using paraffin section RNA in situ hybridization (ISH) with digoxigenin-labeled riboprobes, we screened 16 central nervous system (CNS) non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHLs), 101 systemic NHLs, and 11 Hodgkin's disease cases arising in human immunodeficiency virus-seropositive individuals for EBV-encoded small RNA (EBER 1) expression, an EBV gene product transcribed in abundance during latent infection. Tumor cells contained EBV in 85 of 128 ARLs (66%), but infection rates differed with lymphoma type. EBER 1 was expressed in tumor cells in 11 of 11 Hodgkin's disease cases (100%), 15 of 16 CNS NHLs (94%), and 46 of 60 systemic immunoblast- rich/large-cell lymphomas (77%), but in only 12 of 35 Burkitt-type (small noncleaved cell) (34%) and 1 of 6 monomorphic centroblastic (diffuse large noncleaved cell) (17%) lymphomas. In most EBV-positive ARLs, all recognizable viable tumor cells expressed EBER 1. We conclude that (1) EBV infects tumor cells in all AIDS-related Hodgkin's disease cases, in virtually all primary CNS ARLs, and in most systemic immunoblast-rich/large-cell ARLs; (2) only a minority of Burkitt-type and monomorphic centroblastic lymphomas are associated with EBV; and (3) EBER-ISH is ideal for the histopathologic detection of latent EBV in routine tissue specimens.