Oligoclonal bands (OCBs) are frequently observed in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), but the target antigens of these antibodies remain unknown. We used antigen specific immunoblotting to determine whether Epstein Barr virus nuclear antigen-1 (EBNA-1) was a target of the OCBs in the CSF of patients with MS. Antibody indices (AIs) were measured by ELISA and calculated by the formula of Reiber and Lange which includes correction factors for both breakdown of the blood brain barrier and intrathecal polyclonal IgG synthesis. A distinctive oligoclonal antigen specific banding pattern for EBNA-1 was observed in 5/15 MS patients, but 0/12 controls (P=0.037, Fisher's Exact Probability). AIs in this EBNA-l positive subgroup were extremely high, comparable with levels observed in viral CNS infections. In one patient with EBNA-1 specific OCBs, EBNA-1 and a peptide 'equivalent', p62, were able to absorb a component of the total IgG. Our results suggest that in a subset of MS patients, EBNA-1 may be a major target of selected OCBs. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.