A novel human mRNA whose expression is induced over 200-fold in B lymphocytes by latent Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection was reverse transcribed, cloned, and sequenced. The mRNA is predicted to encode a protein containing four peptides which precisely match amino acid sequences from a previously identified 55-kDa actin-bundling protein, p55. In vitro translation of the cDNA results in a 55-kDa protein which binds to actin filaments in the presence of purified p55 from HeLa cells. The p55 mRNA is undetectable in non-EBV-infected B- and T-cell lines or in a myelomonocytic cell line (U937). Newly infected primary human B lymphocytes, EBV-transformed B-cell lines, latently infected Burkitt tumor cells expressing EBNA2 and LMP1, a chronic myelogenous leukemia cell line (K562), and an osteosarcoma cell line (TK143) contain high levels of p55 mRNA or protein. In EBV- transformed B cells, p55 localizes to perinuclear cytoplasm and to cell surface processes that resemble filopodia. The p55 mRNA is detected at high levels in spleen and brain tissues, at moderate levels in lung and placenta tissues, and at low levels in skeletal muscle, liver, and tonsil tissues and is undetectable in heart, kidney, pancreas, and bone marrow tissues. Immunohistochemical staining of human brain tissue demonstrates p55 localization to the perinuclear cytoplasm and dendritic processes of many, but not all, types of cortical or cerebellar neurons, to glial cells, and to capillary endothelial cells. In cultured primary rat neurons, p55 is distributed throughout the perinuclear cytoplasm and in subcortical filamentous structures of dendrites and growth cones. p55 is highly evolutionarily conserved since it shows 40% amino acid sequence identity to the Drosophila singed gene product and 37% identity to fascin, an echinoderm actin-bundling protein. The evolutionary conservation of p55 and its lack of extensive homology to other actin-binding proteins suggest that p55 has specific microfilament-associated functions in cells in which it is differentially expressed, including neural cells and EBV-transformed B lymphocytes.