We studied the distribution of the EBV genome in tumour biopsies obtained from 42 patients with poorly differentiated or undifferentiated nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) and 3 patients with well-differentiated NPC. Six carcinoma in situ (CIS) foci were seen in 5 tumour specimens. By in-situ hybridization, multiple copies of the EBV genome were detected in some of the tumour cells in 3 CIS lesions involving the full thickness of the mucosal epithelium, but without microinvasion, while the viral genome was present in the majority of the tumour cells contained in another 3 CIS lesions with microinvasion. In agreement with previous findings, poorly differentiated and undifferentiated carcinomas regularly carried the viral genome, the number of copies of which was similar to that seen in CIS, while some, but not all, of the tumour cells of the well-differentiated histological type carried the virus. The viral genome was otherwise rarely detected in other areas of the mucosal epithelium and, where present, the viral carriage was confined to a few epithelial cells, in which the viral genome contents were markedly lower than in tumour cells. These results suggest that EBV may first become associated with NPC at an early stage of the disease shortly after the tumour has been initiated.