The Epstein-Barr virus gp350/220 envelope protein mediates virus attachment to the EBV/C3dg receptor (CR2) of human B lymphocytes. Synthetic peptides corresponding to two regions in gp350/220, which have a similar amino acid sequence with the complement C3dg protein, were used to identify a receptor binding epitope. A peptide corresponding to the N terminus of gp350/220, EDPGFFNVE, bound to purified CR2 and to CR2 positive but not CR2 negative B and T lymphoblastoid cell lines. Soluble monomeric gp350/220 peptide blocked CR2 binding to immobilized EBV, while multimeric forms of the N-terminal gp350/220 peptide conjugated to albumin efficiently blocked recombinant gp350/220 and C3dg binding to B cells as well as EBV-induced B cell proliferation and transformation. These studies indicate that the N-terminal region of gp350/220 plays a crucial role in mediating the earliest stages of EBV infection of B cells and provides a molecular basis for the restricted host cell EBV tropism.