Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a ubiquitous and highly immunotropic gamma herpesvirus that infects more than 90 % of humans worldwide. Its pathogenicity leads to a number of diseases including tumors that result from EBV's ability to readily transform B-lymphocytes and, to a lesser extent, epithelial cells. EBV utilizes CD21/CR2 as its receptor on B cells to initiate the infection process. EBV binds to CR2 through its major envelope glycoprotein-350 (gp350) and is also a remarkable immunomodulating agent. We had previously shown that EBV is capable of modulating the synthesis of a number of cytokines. We now show that while both purified recombinant gp350 (rgp350) and EBV upregulate IL-6 mRNA synthesis in B cells, EBV-induced IL-6 gene activation occurs for a significantly longer period of time (i.e. 12 hours for EBV as compared to 6 hours for rgp350). Moreover, the half-life of EBV-induced IL-6 mRNA was also significantly longer (10 hours) than that of mRNA induced by rgp350 (about 6 hours). Both EBV and gp350 enhance the binding of the NF-kappaB transcription factor, as determined by band-shift and augment NF-kappaB-mediated activation of a CAT reporter plasmid. Furthermore, we demonstrate that while the activation of IL-6 gene expression by gp350 is mediated primarily by the protein kinase C pathway, EBV can mediate its effects through multiple signaling pathways. To our knowledge this is the first report showing that the binding of a herpesvirus envelope glycoprotein to CR2 on human B cells results in the activation of the NF-kappaB transcription factor leading to the upregulation of IL-6 gene expression in these lymphocytes.