The recent discovery of DNA sequences of a new human herpesvirus in Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) has fueled speculation that this virus might cause KS. The mere presence, however, of a virus in a complex multicellular tumor like KS could just as well be construed as evidence of a passenger agent. We sought stronger evidence linking the KS-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) to tumor formation by using in situ hybridization to investigate the specificity, constancy, and timing of KSHV gene expression in KS tumor cells. Here we document expression of a 700-nucleotide viral RNA in every KS tumor examined, from the earliest histologically recognizable stage to advanced tumors in which the vast majority of identifiable spindle tumor cells contain this transcript. Two other KSHV RNAs were also detected in a smaller fraction of the tumor cells in all but the earliest lesion. These viral RNAs were expressed to relatively low levels in this subset; because one of these RNAs encodes a major viral capsid protein, these cells may be producing KSHV. We did not find these KSHV genes expressed in a variety of other tumors and proliferative processes, but we did detect viral gene expression in prostatic tissue, supporting a possible mechanism for sexual transmission of KSHV. The close relationship between KS and KSHV gene expression is consistent with the hypothesis that KSHV is directly involved in the etiology and pathogenesis of KS.