B-type of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) cells are inert to the potent transforming action of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The mitogenic action of Staphylococcus aureus Cowan I (SAC), MP6-thioredoxin, and interleukin 2 (IL-2), agents previously shown to induce proliferation in normal as well as in B-CLL cells, lifted this block, and EBV-positive cell lines could be established. It was not possible to establish cell lines of leukemic origin from cultures that were incubated with EBV alone or cytokine mix alone. CLL-cells infected with EBV only, expressed the viral nuclear antigen complex (EBNA), but not the viral latent membrane protein (LMP). They were not activated as measured by cell size and 3H-thymidine incorporation. In contrast, cells incubated with EBV and cytokine mix expressed both EBNA and LMP in parallel with enlargement and increased 3H-thymidine incorporation. These results emphasize that LMP expression is a prerequisite for growth transformation and immortalization and that cytokine activation signals are required for its expression in B-CLLs. Cells incubated with SAC/MP6-thioredoxin/IL-2 did not express any of the viral antigens, but were activated with regard to the mentioned parameters. Nine cell lines were established from six patients. From each of the three patients, we obtained 'twin'-pair lines: one corresponding to the malignant cell and the other to a normal B-lymphoblastoid cell. Thus, malignant and normal B-cell counterparts, from the very same donor, are at hand for comparative studies. The cell lines have been carried out for more than 12 months in culture. We conclude that B-CLL that are refractory to EBV-transformation can be rendered susceptible through in vitro cytokine activation.