Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) was recently demonstrated in the pancreas of about half the patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus in the absence of mumps, rubella or Coxsackie B virus. The present study addresses the question as to whether type 2 diabetes with an HCMV-positive pancreas differs from those with HCMV-negative pancreases with respect to age, sex, treatment, duration of disease, volume densities of B-cells and D-cells, mRNA levels of insulin and somatostatin, islet amyloid peptide deposits and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and class II gene transcription, and protein expression. HCMV-positive type 2 diabetic patients showed a tendency towards a shorter duration of disease and significantly increased levels of MHC class II on RNA. In addition, expression of MHC class II product (HLA-DR) was identified in duct epithelial cells and/or islet cells in 9 diabetic pancreases and in 2 non-diabetic glands. No MHC class I expression could be detected. No other clinical differences between HCMV-positive and HCMV-negative glands were found. All 10 HCMV-positive diabetics showed a strong expression of MHC class II mRNA in the pancreas. By immunocytochemistry, 4 of 10 demonstrated expression on the islets; three of ten also expressed MHC DR beta on ductal cells. This finding might be related to the viral infection, as only 2 of the 9 HCMV-negative patients were HLA-DR beta positive and none of the non-diabetic controls showed increased levels of MHC class II mRNA. These data suggest that HCMV infection in the pancreas is associated with type 2 diabetes. However, no conclusions as to a role of this virus in the aetiopathology of type 2 diabetes can be drawn at present.