Expression of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) encoded nuclear antigens (EBNA 1 to 6) and membrane-associated protein (LMP) was investigated by immunoblotting in 83 nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) biopsies and 25 other tumor and normal tissue specimens from the head and neck region. Fifty-eight of the 83 NPC biopsies were large enough to yield parallel data on virus DNA and viral expression. All 16 cases of clinically diagnosed and histologically confirmed NPCs from North Africa contained EBV DNA and expressed EBNA-1. Of 31 clinically diagnosed NPCs from China, 29 contained EBV DNA and 25 of these expressed EBNA-1. One control tissue biopsy from the oropharynx of NPC patients contained EBV DNA, but none expressed EBNA-1. The latent membrane protein (LMP) was detected in 22/31 of the Chinese and in 10/16 of the North African NPC biopsies. None of the NPC biopsies or control tissues expressed detectable amounts of EBNA 2 or any of the other 4 nuclear antigens which are invariably expressed in EBV-transformed B cells. A smaller number of tumors from Malaysia and East Africa exhibited a similar pattern of expression. EBV was rescued from a nude-mouse-passaged North African NPC tumor by co-cultivation of the tumor cells with umbilical cord blood lymphocytes. The tumor expressed EBNA 1 and LMP, but not EBNA 2 or the other 4 EBNAs. The resulting LCLs expressed all 6 nuclear antigens, EBNA 1 to 6 and LMP. Our data suggest that expression of the EBV genome is regulated in a tissue-specific fashion.