Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is capable of adopting three distinct forms of latency: the type III latency program, in which six EBV-encoded nuclear antigens (EBNAs) are expressed, and the type I and type II latency programs, in which only a single viral nuclear protein, EBNA1, is produced. Several groups have reported heavy CpG methylation of the EBV genome in Burkitt's lymphoma cell lines which maintain type I latency, and loss of viral genome methylation in tumor cell lines has been correlated with a switch to type III latency. Here, evidence that the type III latency program must be inactivated by methylation to allow EBV to enter the type I or type II restricted latency program is provided. The data demonstrates that the EBNA1 gene promoter, Qp, active in types I and II latency, is encompassed by a CpG island which is protected from methylation. CpG methylation inactivates the type III latency program and consequently allows the type I or II latency program to operate by alleviating EBNA1-mediated repression of Qp. Methylation of the type III latency EBNA gene promoter, Cp, appears to be essential to prevent type III latency, since EBNA1 is expressed in all latently infected cells and, as shown here, is the only viral antigen required for activation of Cp. EBV is thus a pathogen which subverts host-cell-determined methylation to regulate distinct genetic programs.