The lacrimal gland (LG) immunopathology of Sjögren's syndrome (SS) consists of a proliferation of B and CD4 lymphocytes surrounding epithelial structures (Pepose JS, et al: Ophthalmology 1990, 97:1599-1605). Based on the detection of EBV genomes in a greater percentage of SS than normal LG biopsies, we previously postulated that Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a risk factor for LG lymphoproliferation in SS (Pflugfelder SC, et al: Ophthalmology 1990, 97:976-984). The purpose of this study was to determine the cellular site(s) of infection, virus type, and antigen expression of EBV infecting normal and SS LGs. EBV DNA was detected by in situ hybridization in intraductal epithelia in 13-33% of lobules in 21% of normal LGs and in cells in areas of B lymphoproliferation as well as the majority of epithelia in 86% of SS LGs. EBV genomic sequences were amplified from 36% of normal and 88% of SS LG biopsies by polymerase chain reaction. Only type 1 EBV sequences were amplified in SS LGs; in contrast EBV nuclear antigen 2-deleted but not type 1 sequences were amplified in normal LGs. Immunohistochemistry with EBV-specific monoclonal antibodies was performed on normal and SS LGs. No EBV antigens were detected in normal LGs. In contrast, latent antigens (latent membrane protein, EBV nuclear antigen 2) were detected in lymphocytes in areas of B lymphoproliferation, and early and late lytic cycle antigens were observed in epithelia in SS LGs. These studies suggest that EBV may play a role in the LG B lymphoproliferation and epithelial pathologic changes observed in SS.