Five peptides corresponding to amino acid sequences predicted from all three reading frames of the nucleotide sequence of the third internal repeat array (IR3) of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genome were synthesized chemically. All five peptides elicited antipeptide antibodies in rabbits. The antiserum raised against a 14-residue copolymer of glycine and alanine gave brilliant EBV-specific nuclear staining in the anticomplement immunofluorescence (ACIF) assay, in line with the original definition of the EBV-determined nuclear antigen (EBNA) [Reedman, B. M. & Klein, G. (1973) Int. J. Cancer 11, 499-520]. Eight EBNA and EBV DNA-carrying lines showed nuclear staining with the antipeptide antibody, whereas five EBV DNA negative lines failed to stain. The staining pattern was more discretely punctate than the finely dispersed diffuse EBNA staining obtained with human antisera. Human EBV antibody-positive but not EBV-negative sera reacted with the synthetic peptide in an ELISA test. The peptide-specific antibodies were purified from the sera of healthy EBV-seropositive persons by affinity chromatography with the peptide. They gave an EBV-specific, brilliant punctate nuclear ACIF staining similar to that of the rabbit antipeptide antibodies. It was concluded that the glycine-alanine structure encoded by the IR3 region contains a native determinant of EBNA, detected by the ACIF test. Immunoblotting with the rabbit and human peptide-specific antibodies identified poly-peptides that varied between 70 and 92 kilodaltons in size in different EBV-positive cell lines, corresponding closely to a previously identified variation pattern in the size of EBNA. In addition, rabbit antipeptide antibodies identified two cellular polypeptides, 44 and 49 kilodaltons in size.