The presence and distribution of human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) variants was investigated by polymerase chain reaction in samples from healthy donors and biopsies from non-Hodgkin's lymphomas and Hodgkin's disease. HHV-6 DNA was present in peripheral blood lymphocytes of 17% of healthy donors, variant B three times more frequently than A. HHV-6 was not present in 35 non-Hodgkin's lymphomas of B cell origin and was in only 1 of 10 non-Hodgkin's lymphomas in AIDS patients. HHV-6 DNA was present in 29% of Hodgkin's disease samples; variant B was more frequent than A. Epstein-Barr virus DNA was detected in 38% of Hodgkin's disease biopsies and did not correlate with HHV-6. Thus, the two HHV-6 variants are differently distributed in the healthy population, and the virus probably has no direct role in the development of B cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The detection of HHV-6 DNA in about one-third of Hodgkin's disease biopsies suggests that HHV-6 might be associated with a subset of this disorder.