Loss of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genome from Akata Burkitt lymphoma (BL) cells is coincident with a loss of malignant phenotype, despite the fact that Akata and other EBV-positive BL cells express a restricted set of EBV gene products (type I latency) that are not known to overtly affect cell growth. Here we demonstrate that reestablishment of type I latency in EBV-negative Akata cells restores tumorigenicity and that tumorigenic potential correlates with an increased resistance to apoptosis under growth-limiting conditions. The antiapoptotic effect of EBV was associated with a higher level of Bcl-2 expression and an EBV-dependent decrease in steady-state levels of c-MYC protein. Although the EBV EBNA-1 protein is expressed in all EBV-associated tumors and is reported to have oncogenic potential, enforced expression of EBNA-1 alone in EBV-negative Akata cells failed to restore tumorigenicity or EBV-dependent down-regulation of c-MYC. These data provide direct evidence that EBV contributes to the tumorigenic potential of Burkitt lymphoma and suggest a novel model whereby a restricted latency program of EBV promotes B-cell survival, and thus virus persistence within an immune host, by selectively targeting the expression of c-MYC.