Burkitt's lymphoma (BL) biopsy cells and derived cell lines can be grouped according to their patterns of reactivity with 6 selected monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) against B cell-associated surface antigens. Group I cells react only with MAbs J5 and 38.13, recognising the common acute lymphoblastic leukaemia antigen and a BL-associated antigen respectively; group II cells react with J5 and 38.13 and with one or more of a set of MAbs (Ki-24, MHM6, AC2, Ki-1) against "lymphoblastoid" antigens; group III cells react only with these anti-"lymphoblastoid" MAbs. Tumour biopsy cells from 17 cases of sporadic BL, 9 positive for the Epstein-Barr (EB) virus genome and 8 negative, have been analysed during the process of cell line establishment in vitro. In early passage the EB virus-negative BL cells showed either a group I phenotype or gave an additional reactivity with MAb Ki-24 which placed them in group II; these phenotypes remained essentially stable with continued growth of the cell lines for up to 50 passages. By contrast the EB virus-positive BL cells were much more susceptible to phenotypic change in vitro. Although such cells displayed a group I or group II phenotype in early passage, many of the lines soon moved into group III whilst retaining the karyotypic markers indicative of their malignant origin. These observations suggest that a resident EB virus genome can drive the in vitro progression of BL cells towards a more "lymphoblastoid" phenotype. This was confirmed in subsequent experiments where virus-negative BL cell lines were converted to EB virus positivity by in vitro infection. Clearly, therefore, phenotypic analysis of long-established lines can lead to false distinctions being drawn between the EB virus-positive and -negative forms of sporadic BL; both may derive from the same sub-population of target B cells in vivo.