In rare cases Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) leads to chronic active infection (CAEBV) which is characterized by persistant symptoms of infectious mononucleosis. Previously we described a case of persisting polyclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (PPBL) that was associated with CAEBV. Using reverse transcription and polymerase chain reaction we showed that in late passages of a spontaneous cell line, SM, latent EB viral genes such as EBNA1, EBNA2, EBNA3A/3B/3C, LMP1 and LMP2A were active. The master gene of the lytic cycle, BZLF1, was silent. This indicated that there was no general defect in immortalization and establishing latency by this CAEBV isolate SM. We obtained virus from the standard immortalizing strain B95-8 and the CAEBV strain SM from latently infected LCL, quantified the number of virus particles by competitive PCR and demonstrated that the impaired capacity to immortalize umbilical cord blood lymphocytes was a virus strain-specific property, and was not due to an incapability to infect purified CD19+ B lymphocytes. Transcription of latency- and immortalization- associated genes such as EBNA1, EBNA2 and LMP2A was reduced, in contrast to a strongly enhanced activity of the master gene of the lytic cycle, BZLF1. A scenario for an antagonistic regulation of lytic and latent cycle genes is presented and a role for the pathogenesis of CAEBV is discussed.