Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a human herpesvirus that selectively binds to and infects human B lymphocytes (B cells). In the studies presented here, we found that several phenothiazines, including trifluoperazine, chlorpromazine, prochlorpromazine, and promethazine, blocked EBV infectivity of isolated adult human B cells as measured either by outgrowth of transformed cell colonies or by [3H]thymidine incorporation. Trifluoperazine, chlorpromazine, and prochlorpromazine were equally effective with 20 microM fully inhibiting infectivity, whereas 100 microM promethazine was required for a comparable effect. Inhibition by trifluoperazine was partially reversible. Studies with radiolabeled EBV demonstrated that the inhibitors did not impair virus binding to B cells. Electron microscopic examination of B lymphocytes revealed that trifluoperazine reduced the number of large uncoated cell vacuoles and the number of membrane microvilli, indicating that this agent interfered with cell pinocytosis. This process was accompanied by inhibition of EBV endocytosis into B cells. Phenothiazines bind to and inhibit calmodulin, an intracellular calcium-binding protein that regulates several key enzymes, some of which directly affect cytoskeletal elements, although they also may interact nonspecifically with other cellular constituents. In this regard, haloperidol, a non-phenothiazine calmodulin antagonist, and R24571, a derivative of the antimycotic miconazole, which is a potent and highly specific calmodulin inhibitor, also blocked EBV infection. These studies suggest that calmodulin or a calmodulin-regulated cellular enzyme(s) is involved in normal cellular endocytic processes in B lymphocytes and thereby in the early stages of EBV infection.