The bovine leukemia virus (BLV) is an oncogenic retrovirus that is associated with the development of persistent lymphocytosis (PL) and lymphoma in cattle. While B lymphocytes have been shown to be the primary cellular target of BLV, recent studies suggest that some T lymphocytes and monocytes may be infected by the virus. Because vitally altered functions of monocytes and/or T cells could contribute to the development of lymphoproliferative disease, we sought to clarify the distribution of the BLV provirus in subpopulations of peripheral blood mononuclear cells in seropositive cows with and without PL. CD2+ T cells, monocytes, and CD5+ and CD5- B cells were sorted by flow cytometry and tested for the presence of BLV by single- cell PCR. We did not obtain convincing evidence that peripheral blood monocytes or T lymphocytes contain the BLV provirus in seropositive cows with or without PL. In seropositive cows without PL (n = 14), BLV-infected CD5+ and CD5- B cells accounted for 9.2% ± 19% and 0.1% ± 1.8% of circulating B lymphocytes, respectively. In cows with PL (n = 5), BLV-infected CD5+ and CD5- B cells accounted for 66% ± 4.8% and 13.9% ± 6.6% of circulating B lymphocytes, respectively. The increase in lymphocyte numbers in cows with PL was entirely attributable to the 45-fold and 99-fold expansions of infected CD5+ and CD5- B-cell populations, respectively. Our results demonstrate that B cells are the only mononuclear cells in peripheral blood that are significantly infected with BLV. On the basis of the absolute numbers of infected cells in seropositive, hematologically normal animals, there appear to be differences in susceptibility to vital spread in viva that may be under the genetic control of the host.