To elucidate the relationship between Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), we measured antibodies to RA-associated nuclear antigen (anti-RANA) and three other EBV-related antigens in the sera of RA patients and controls. Our study groups consisted of 89 patients with definite or classical RA, mean age 56, male/female ratio 47:42; and 53 normal and osteoarthritis controls, mean age 51, male/female ratio 25:28. In addition to anti-RANA, we measured antibodies to viral capsid antigen (anti-VCA), early antigen (anti-EA) and EBV-associated nuclear antigen (anti-EBNA). Anti-RANA was detected in 71% of RA patients but in only 6% of controls. Elevated anti-VCA titers (greater than 1:160) were more common in RA patients than controls, 31% compared with 15%. The geometric mean titer of anti-VCA was significantly higher iun the RA group, 133 compared with 58. Anti-EA was present in 53% of RA patients but only 19% of controls. Anti-EA in elevated titers (greater than 1:20) was present in 26% of RA patients but only 7% of controls. Characterization of the anti-EA antibodies revealed that the RA patients reacted primarily with the diffuse component, whereas the majority of the controls reacted with the restricted component of the EA complex. In contrast, the frequencies, distributions, and geometric mean titers of anti-EBNA were not significantly different between the two groups. Correlative analysis of these antibodies showed highly significant relationships between anti-VCA and anti-EA, and anti-RANA and anti-EBNA in the RA group. These data are compatible with the interpretation that RA patients have either more active EBV infections than controls or an altered regulation of their immune response to this infectious agent.