AIMS: To investigate the occurrence of abnormal patterns of HLA-ABC and HLA-DR expression in enteropathy associated T cell lymphoma and to relate such abnormalities to the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) status of the tumours. METHODS: Eleven enteropathy associated T cell lymphomas were immunostained with HC10 (HLA-ABC heavy chain) and TAL 1B5 (HLA-DR alpha chain) monoclonal antibodies and polyclonal anti-beta 2 microglobulin (beta 2m, the HLA-ABC light chain) antibodies. In situ hybridisation for EBV using EBER probes was performed on all cases. RESULTS: Tumour cells of two of 11 patients were EBER positive. One of these showed partial, and the other, complete loss of beta 2m. HLA-DR expression was undetectable in both patients. Of the remaining nine EBER negative tumours, two were HLA-ABC heavy chain negative or showed only occasional positive cells and five of nine showed partial or complete loss of the HLA-ABC light chain, beta 2m. Seven of the nine cases were either negative for HLA-DR or showed weak expression in a proportion of tumour cells. CONCLUSIONS: These data show that low or absent HLA-ABC and HLA-DR antigen expression occurs commonly in enteropathy associated T cell lymphoma. These abnormal patterns of HLA expression may be associated with escape from immune attack which, in a minority of patients, could be directed against EBV antigens.