Injection of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-transformed human lymphoblastoid B cells into immunodeficient SCID mice results in the appearance of rapidly growing, fatal human B-cell tumors. To evaluate the role of EBV nuclear protein 2 (EBNA-2) in this process, we generated lymphoblastoid cell lines transformed by several EBV mutants which were identical except for deletions in the EBNA-2 gene (J. I. Cohen, F. Wang, and E. Kieff, J. Virol. 65:2545-2554, 1991). These cell lines were injected intraperitoneally into SCID mice, and the interval until tumor detection was determined. Cell lines transformed with EBV type 1 (strain W91) or with EBV type 2 (strain P3HR-1) with an inserted type 1 EBNA-2 gene grew at the same rapid rate, indicating the potential importance of EBNA-2 for tumor formation in vivo. Cell lines derived from three different EBV mutants with deletions in the amino half of EBNA-2 produced tumors more slowly than cell lines transformed by wild-type W91 virus. In contrast, a cell line transformed with an EBV mutant with a deletion in the carboxy terminus of EBNA-2 grew more rapidly than cell lines transformed by wild-type virus. EBV mutants with deletions in the amino half of EBNA-2 had had reduced transforming activity in vitro, while the carboxy-terminal EBNA-2 mutant had had transforming activity greater than or equal to that of the wild type. These data indicate that EBNA-2 plays a critical role both for B-cell tumor growth in SCID mice and for B-lymphocyte transformation in vitro.