The unique segment of the human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) genome is essentially collinear to the unique long DNA segment of another betaherpesvirus, the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV). However, the HHV-6 genomic section that is analogous in position to the major immediate-early (IE) locus of HCMV does not exhibit recognizable sequence homologies. The respective HHV-6 region of 5.5 kbp is flanked on one side by 25 to 28 incomplete tandem repeats of 105 to 110 bp that contain, with one exception, a single KpnI restriction site (KpnI repeats). About 250 reiterations of the sequence motif CACATA are located on the other end. We identified two open reading frames of 375 and 2,595 nucleotides, respectively, on one strand. Strand-specific Northern blot analyses with RNA harvested from HHV-6 (strain U1102)-infected HSB-2 cells or cord blood lymphocytes revealed two transcripts of about 3.5 and 4.7 kb in the corresponding orientation. Sequence analyses of the respective cDNA clones and primer extension experiments were used to map the mRNAs. The two transcripts are coterminal and multiply spliced and code for the same putative 104.6-kDa protein, but they are initiated from different promoters. Characterization of smaller cDNA clones and Northern blotting with other strand-specific probes showed that singly spliced mRNAs of 1.0 and 1.5 kb are transcribed from the opposite strand; they could code for a 17.2-kDa polypeptide. Blocking experiments with cycloheximide led to the conclusion that only the 3.5-kb mRNA is synthesized in the absence of protein biosynthesis upon infection with cell-free virus. This identifies a single IE gene of HHV-6 at the genomic position corresponding to the major IE region of HCMV, although the coding content and transcriptional regulation are quite different for these two herpesvirus IE regions.