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Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) persists in healthy virus carriers within the immunoglobulin (Ig)D(-)CD27(+) (class-switched) memory B-cell compartment that normally arises through antigen stimulation and germinal center transit. Patients with X-linked lymphoproliferative disease (XLP) lack such class-switched memory B cells but are highly susceptible to EBV infection, often developing fatal symptoms resembling those seen in EBV-associated hemophagocytic syndrome (EBV-AHS), a disease caused by aberrant virus entry into the NK- or T-cell system. Here we show that XLP patients who survive primary EBV exposure carry relatively high virus loads in the B-cell, but not the NK- or T-cell, compartment. Interestingly, in the absence of conventional class-switched memory B cells, the circulating EBV load was concentrated within a small population of IgM(+)IgD(+)CD27(+) (nonswitched) memory cells rather than within the numerically dominant naive (IgM(+)IgD(+)CD27(-)) or transitional (CD10(+)CD27(-)) subsets. In 2 prospectively studied patients, the circulating EBV load was stable and markers of virus polymorphism detected the same resident strain over time. These results provide the first definitive evidence that EBV can establish persistence in the B-cell system in the absence of fully functional germinal center activity and of a class-switched memory B-cell compartment.