Experiments were designed in an attempt to identify T- and B-cell epitopes expressed on the 17-kDa early-antigen-restricted (EA-R) polypeptide of the EBV-induced early antigen complex. Using Berzofsky's algorithm, 3 hypothetical T-cell epitopes on p17 were synthesized and employed in EBV-specific lymphoproliferative assays. Lymphocytes from all EBV-infected donors responded against one of these epitopes (p17.1) irrespective of their serological status relative to antibodies to EA-R. Both CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell subpopulations from seropositive donors proliferated in the presence of p17.1 in short-term cultures. These experiments therefore identified one T-cell epitope on the 17-kDa polypeptide. In contrast, sera from anti-Ea antibody-positive individuals reacted with all 3 synthetic peptides to varying degrees, with p17.1 being the most frequently reactive epitope. When the sera were grouped according to diagnosis, it was noted that 82% of the sera from patients with aggressive lymphomas, whether Africans with Burkitt's lymphoma or North Americans with intermediate-grade large-cell or high-grade B-cell lymphoma, contained antibody reactive with p17.1, while 64% were reactive with p17.2 and 29% with p17.3. In contrast, high anti-EA antibody-positive sera from nasopharyngeal carcinoma patients were relatively less reactive with these synthetic peptides (23% positive with p17.1; 19% with p17.2; and 13% with p17.3). These results therefore identified 3 B-cell EA-R epitopes which might be potentially useful for clinical or epidemiological studies of EBV-associated lymphoproliferative diseases.