Results of studies in mice and clinical observations in man indicate that T cell-mediated immunity is important in resistance to herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections. This study was undertaken to elucidate the viral antigen specificity of human HSV-immune T cells. Purified HSV-1 glycoproteins gB-1 and gD-1, cloned and expressed in mammalian cells, were found to stimulate proliferation of, and interleukin 2 (IL 2) production by, peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) of HSV seropositive individuals, indicating the presence of memory T cells to gB-1 and gD-1 in individuals with serologic evidence of immunity to HSV. Second, T cell clones, generated by stimulation of PBL with HSV-1, were found to recognize gB-1 or gD-1, as evidenced by the ability of the clones to proliferate in response to stimulation with gB-1 or gD-1 in the absence of exogenous IL 2. Third, HSV-specific T cell clones, lytic for HSV-1 or both HSV-1- and HSV-2-infected autologous target cells, were generated after stimulation of PBL with purified cloned gB-1 or gD-1. Our findings, that human HSV-specific T cells can recognize and be activated by HSV subunit antigens gB-1 or gD-1, imply that these glycoproteins play a role in human T cell-mediated immunity to HSV and support the contention that a gB-1 or gD-1 subunit vaccine may be protective in man.