EPSTEIN-BARR virus, a human herpesvirus with oncogenic potential, infects two target tissues in vivo: B lymphocytes, where the infection is largely non-productive1, and stratified squamous epithelium in which virus replication occurs2,3. The interaction with B cells, initiated through virus binding to the B-cell surface molecule CR2 (ref. 4), has been studied in vitro and the virus 'latent' genes associated with B-cell growth transformation defined5. By comparison, viral infection of epithelium remains poorly understood, reflecting the lack of an appropriate cell-culture model. Here we describe the development of such a model using as targets CR2-expressing transfected cells of two independent human epithelial lines. A high proportion of these cells bind virus and become actively infected, expressing the small EBER RNAs (small non-polyadenylated virus-coded RNAs) and the Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen 1 but not other latent proteins; thereafter, under conditions favouring epithelial differentiation, up to 30% of the cells can be induced to enter virus productive cycle with some progressing to full virus replication. We find significant differences between laboratory virus strains in their ability to infect epithelium that do not correlate with their B-cell growth-transforming activity.