To assess the response to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection in patients with primary Sjögren's syndrome (SS), the frequency of detection of EBV DNA was studied in salivary gland biopsies and the antibody and idiotypic response to the virus was compared with healthy controls and infectious mononucleosis (IM). Viral DNA, detected by in-situ hybridization, was found in biopsies from two out of 12 patients with SS and six out of 10 controls. IgG, IgA and IgM antibodies to the virus, measured by ELISA using synthetic peptides (early antigen and EBNA-1) and a cloned fusion protein (EBNA-1), were normal in sera from 20 patients with SS, whereas infectious mononucleosis patients showed an increase in IgM antibodies to EBNA-1 and IgG antibodies to early antigen. One similarity between infectious mononucleosis and Sjögren's syndrome was a significant increase in the germline heavy chain idiotype G6 in both diseases, suggesting activation of similar B-cell subsets. It is possible that this is due to EBV, though the low frequency of EBV DNA in biopsies and the normal levels of EBV antibodies in SS does not lend any evidence that the virus itself is the causative agent.