The highly restricted expression of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genome in malignancy has limited the use of EBV detection methods applicable to formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded carcinoma specimens. In EBV-transformed lymphocytes very short nonprotein coding EBV transcripts (EBERs) are expressed in much higher abundance (10(7) copies per cell) than other EBV latency transcripts. Using a 3H riboprobe, the authors demonstrated EBER1 expression in NASOPHARYNGEAL CARCINOMAS (NPCs) as well as in parotid salivary gland. Recognition of EBER1 expression was facilitated by the intensity of hybridization and its characteristic morphology (nuclear with nucleolar sparing). EBER1 expression was not demonstrated in other epithelial malignancies arising from mucosal surfaces (oropharynx, uterine cervix) from which EBV shedding has been detected. Repeat study of the NPC specimens with digoxigenin-labeled probe yielded hybridization signal with subcellular morphologic detail and without background in a 12-hour procedure. Thus the EBER1 transcript is an appropriate target for in situ hybridization detection of EBV in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded carcinoma specimens.