The ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase-L1 (UCH-L1) is a deubiquitinating enzyme that catalyses the hydrolysis of polyubiquitin precursors and small ubiquitin adducts. UCH-L1 has been detected in a variety of malignant and metastatic tumours but its biological function in these cells is unknown. We have previously shown that UCH-L1 is highly expressed in Burkitt’s lymphoma (BL) and is up-regulated upon infection of B lymphocytes with Epstein–Barr virus (EBV). Here we show that knockdown of UCH-L1 by RNAi inhibits the proliferation of BL cells in suspension and semisolid agar and activates strong LFA-1-dependent homotypic adhesion. Induction of cell adhesion correlated with cation-induced binding to ICAM-1, clustering of LFA-1 into lipid rafts and constitutive activation of the Rap1 and Rac1 GTPases. Expression of a catalytically active UCH-L1 promoted the proliferation of a UCH-L1-negative EBV transformed lymphoblastoid cell line (LCL) and inhibited cell adhesion, whereas a catalytic mutant had no effect, confirming the requirement of UCH-L1 enzymatic activity for the regulation of these phenotypes. Our results identify UCH-L1 as a new player in the signalling pathways that promote the proliferation and invasive capacity of malignant B cells.