Although case-oriented evidence for an association of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) with gastric carcinoma has been accumulating recently, the interaction(s) between EBV and gastric epithelial cells is/are largely unknown. In this study, we examined seven EBV-positive gastric carcinoma tissues for viral gene expression at the mRNA level, from which studies on the EBV oncogenicity in human epithelial cells will benefit. Reverse transcription-PCR analysis showed that all seven EBV-positive tumour tissues constitutively expressed EBV nuclear antigen (EBNA) 1 mRNA, but not EBNA2 mRNA. The EBNA transcription was initiated from one of three EBNA promoters, Qp: by contrast, both Cp and Wp were silent, thus resulting in the lack of EBNA2 mRNA. Latent membrane protein (LMP) 2A mRNA was detected in three of seven cases; however, neither LMP1 nor LMP2B mRNA was detected in any of the tumours tested. Transcripts from the BamHI-A region of the viral genome were detectable in all cases. BZLF1 mRNA and the product, an immediate-early gene for EBV replication, was not expressed in any of them, thereby suggesting that the tumour cells carried EBV genomes in a tightly latent form. These findings further extended our previous data regarding EBV latency in gastric carcinoma cells at the protein level, and have affirmed that the programme of viral gene expression in the tumour more closely resembles 'latency I' represented by Burkitt's lymphoma than 'latency II' represented by the majority of nasopharyngeal carcinomas.