Primary effusion lymphoma (PEL; also known as body cavity-based lymphoma) is recognized as a new and unique lymphoma entity occurring predominantly, but not exclusively in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-seropositive patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). PEL grows exclusively in body cavities as serous lymphomatous effusion without evidence of mass disease or dissemination. Their most unique feature is infection with the newly discovered human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8; also known as Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus), often accompanied by co-infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). A number of continuous lymphoma cell lines have been established from the malignant pleural effusion, ascitic fluid and peripheral blood of patients with AIDS- and non-AIDS-associated PEL. While all cell lines are HHV-8+, about half of them also contain EBV sequences. Stimulation of the cell lines causes switch from latent to lytic HHV-8 infection. The cells are generally negative for T and B cell immunomarkers (except for CD138 suggesting a pre- or terminal plasma cell stage) and positive for some activation and adhesion markers; they are genotypically B cells with their immunoglobulin genes rearranged. Complex, hyperdiploid karyotypes with multiple structural abnormalities are seen in the cell lines examined. No alterations of known proto-oncogenes are detected in PEL, with the exception of BCL-6 mutations occurring in a large percentage of cases. Heterotransplantation of the cell lines into immunodeficient mice leads to the development of lymphomatous effusion and marked angiogenesis. As HHV-8 contains DNA sequences of several protein homologues, the cell lines express various cytokines, cytokine receptors, chemokines, cell cycle and anti-apoptosis modulators which are upregulated upon stimulation. Indeed, some cell lines produce high levels of (human) interleukin-6 and interleukin-10. Taken together, these cell lines represent very important model systems for the elucidation of the pathobiology of PEL; furthermore, the cell lines are extremely useful scientific tools providing a resource to pursue studies of HHV-8-mediated pathogenic mechanisms.