Abstract Experimentally infected mice were used to assess the value of immunofluorescence (IF) procedures in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) cells in comparison with routine viral culture of CSF for diagnosis of herpes simplex type-1 (HSV-1) encephalitis. Virus specific antigen was detected by immunofluorescence in the majority of CSF cells in 75% of infected animals. In contrast, only 20% of infected mice had positive viral cultures, which sometimes took as long as a week to show a cytopathological effect (CPE). It is concluded that antigen detection by immunofluorescence is a rapid, specific and sensitive technique for demonstrating HSV-1 antigen in CSF cells of experimentally infected mice. Our results put forward a plea for further studies using these techniques on CSF samples from patients with suspected HSV-1 encephalitis. The prerequisites for reliable interpretation of results have been defined in this study.