The sera of 12 patients with presumed chronic active Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection lacked antibody to a component of the Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen (EBNA) complex encoded by the BamHI K fragment of viral DNA. This anomaly, detected in approximately 18% of sera obtained from patients with a diagnosis of "chronic mononucleosis," was more often found in patients with severe disease (approximately 32%) who had objective clinical findings and markedly elevated antibody titers to EBV replicative antigens than in those patients with the "fatigue syndrome" (10%). The lack of antibody to the K nuclear antigen is specific because most of those who did not have antibody to the K antigen made antibody to other latent nuclear (EBNA 2) antigens or nuclear early antigens. Such patients are thus able to lyse immortalized cells, release nuclear products, and present them to the immune system. Three hypotheses are suggested to explain the lack of antibody to the K antigen: a viral mutation, a failure of immune recognition, or lack of in vivo expression of the antigen due to extensive viral replication. Lack of antibody to one component of EBNA may serve as an objective serological marker for certain patients with chronic EBV infection.