Ninety-five cases of adenocarcinoma of the stomach were evaluated for the presence of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) using a sensitive in situ hybridization assay targeting Epstein-Barr virus-encoded RNA 1 (EBER1) transcripts. EBER1 was detected in 11 of 95 (12%) of cases. When present, the virus was localized to malignant epithelial cells and to dysplastic gastric epithelium, but was not seen in normal-appearing gastric epithelium or intestinal metaplasia. The EBV DNA was monoclonal in all three cases tested by Southern blot analysis of the EBV terminal repeat fragment. These findings suggest that the virus was present before malignant transformation. The presence of EBV was strongly associated with increased numbers of tumor-infiltrating T lymphocytes; however, EBV was not associated with prolonged survival. Neither p53 nor bcl-2 were consistently detected in the EBV-associated tumors. Specifically, 6 of 11 EBV-positive carcinomas had accumulation of p53 protein by immunohistochemical analysis, which was similar to the prevalence of p53 accumulation in EBV-negative specimens and suggests that EBV infection does not substitute for p53 mutations during tumorigenesis. The bcl-2 oncoprotein was expressed in a third of the carcinoma specimens tested, but bcl-2 expression did not correlate with the presence of EBV or with expression of EBV latent membrane protein 1. In conclusion, EBV infection appears to precede malignant transformation in a significant fraction of gastric carcinomas, but neither bcl-2 expression nor p53 accumulation appear to be consistently associated with the presence of the virus.