The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) nuclear antigen 1 (EBNA-1) is a latent viral protein that is expressed in all EBV-immortalized lymphocytes and plays an essential role in immortalization y EBV. EBNA-1 protein is required for replication and maintenance of the episomal viral genome in latently infected, immortalized cells. Given the essential function of EBNA-1 in immortalization, we have examined the effect of EBNA-1 antisense oligodeoxynucleotides on expression of EBNA-1 protein and proliferation in EBV-immortalized lymphoblastoid cells. We have shown that exposure to unmodified antisense oligodeoxynucleotide of codons 6 through 10 of EBNA-1 partially suppressed EBNA-1 protein expression in EBV-immortalized lymphoblastoid cells relative to untreated cells or cells exposed to two scrambled sequences of the EBNA-1 antisense. Furthermore, EBNA-1 antisense inhibited proliferation of EBV- immortalized cells by at least 50% compared with the scrambled antisense sequences. There was no difference in the effect of antisense and scrambled antisense oligodeoxynucleotides on the proliferation of EBV-negative cells, indicating that the antiproliferative effect of EBNA-1 antisense was EBV-specific. These findings underscore the essential role of EBNA-1 in immortalization and, furthermore, have potential therapeutic implications for EBV-associated neoplastic diseases.