Oryzacystatin (OC) is the first-described cystatin originating from rice seed; it consists of two molecular species, OC-I and OC-II, which have antiviral action against poliovirus in vitro (H. Kondo, S. Ijiri, K. Abe, H. Maeda, and S. Arai, FEBS Lett. 299:48-50, 1992). In the experiments reported here, we investigated the effects of OC-I and OC-II on the replication of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) in vitro and in vivo. HSV-1 was inoculated onto monolayers of monkey kidney epithelial cells (CV-1 cells) at a multiplicity of infection of 0.1 PFU per cell. After adsorption of the virus onto cells, the cultures were incubated in the presence of either OC-I or OC-II in the concentration range of 1.0 to 300 microM, and the supernatant virus yield was quantitated at 24 h. The effective concentration for 90% inhibition of HSV-1 was 14.8 microM, while a cytotoxic effect on CV-1 cells without infection of HSV-1 was not observed below 500 microM OC-I. Therefore, the apparent in vitro chemotherapeutic index was estimated to be more than 33. In the mouse model of HSV-1-induced keratitis and encephalopathy, topical administration of OC-I to the mouse cornea produced a significant decrease in virus production in the cornea (mean virus yields: 3.11 log10 PFU in the treated group and 4.37 log10 PFU in the control group) and significant improvement in survival rates (P = 0.01). The in vivo antiherpetic effect of OC-I was comparable to that of acyclovir, indicating that topical treatment of HSV-1 infection in humans with OC-I might be possible. Our data also suggest the importance of some thiol proteinases, which may be derived from either the host's cells or HSV-1, during the replication process of HSV-1.