The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) BZLF1 gene is expressed early upon induction of the viral lytic cycle and its protein product is unique in its ability to disrupt viral latency in some latently infected cell lines. Anti-immunoglobulin (anti-Ig) treatment of the Burkitt's lymphoma cell line Akata, which bears surface IgG, has previously been shown to synchronously induce transcription of the BZLF1 gene (K. Takada and Y. Ono, 1989, J. Virol. 63, 445-449). We have previously shown that anti-Ig induction of Akata cells activates expression of the tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) gene via a calcineurin-dependent mechanism (Goldfeld et al., 1992, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 89, 12198-12201). Here, we report that anti-Ig induction of the EBV lytic cycle in Akata cells can be blocked by the immunosuppressants cyclosporin A and FK506. Furthermore, we demonstrate that synergistic induction by phorbol ester and calcium ionophore of a BZLF1 promoter-driven reporter construct in an EBV-negative BL cell line can be inhibited by addition of cyclosporin A. Thus, analogous to activation of TNF-alpha gene in Akata cells, anti-Ig induction of the BZLF1 promoter is most likely mediated by calcineurin and probably involves translocation to the nucleus of a transcription factor sequestered in the cytoplasm. As such, immunosuppressants may be useful probes for dissecting B cell activation pathways involved in regulating EBV gene transcription.