Infection of B lymphocytes and epithelial tissue by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is associated with malignancy and autoimmunity. The cellular receptor for EBV has been identified as CD21 (CR2). A molecule, which is biochemically and immunologically similar to B-cell CD21, has been identified on a subpopulation of immature thymocytes, suggesting a role for this molecule in the regulation of T-cell development and further suggesting that immature T cells might be susceptible to EBV infection. A growing body of literature now documents the presence of EBV in tumors of T-cell origin. We have evaluated the susceptibility of the human immature T cell line, HPB-ALL, to infection by EBV. Electron microscopy studies showed a rapid internalization of virus by HPB cells. Southern blotting showed the intracellular presence of linear EBV genomes, and components of the virus replicative cycle were identified. Expression of the BamHI Z region of the genome, encoding the nuclear protein, ZEBRA, which is strictly associated with productive infection in B cells, was detected in HPB-ALL cells. A spliced variant of Z, RAZ, was also identified. Cell surface expression of EBV late antigens was observed to occur transiently. Infection of HPB cells was also accompanied by altered expression of T-cell surface molecules involved in antigen recognition, a process critical to normal development of the T-cell repertoire. Delineation of the outcome of T- cell infection by EBV may lead to a better understanding of the role of this virus in autoimmune processes and malignancy.