To gain further insight on the function of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) packaging signal (a sequence), we constructed a recombinant virus containing a unique a sequence, which was flanked by two loxP sites in parallel orientation. The phenotype of this recombinant, named HSV-1 LaL, was studied in cell lines which either express or do not express Cre recombinase. Although LaL virus multiplication was only slightly reduced in standard cell lines, its growth was strongly inhibited in Cre-expressing cells. In these cells, a sequences were detected mostly in low-molecular-weight DNA circles, indicating that they had been excised from virus DNA by site-specific recombination. Deletion of the a sequences from the viral genome resulted in the accumulation of uncleaved replication intermediates, as observed by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. B-type capsids also accumulated in these cells, as shown both by electron microscopy and by sucrose gradient sedimentation. Further examination of the status of a sequences in Cre-expressing cells indicated that high-level amplification of this sequence can occur in the absence of the cleavage-packaging process. Moreover, the amplified a signals in small circular DNA molecules remained uncleaved, indicating that these molecules were not able to efficiently interact with the cleavage-packaging machinery. The cleavage-packaging machinery and the structural proteins required to assemble virions were, however, functional in HSV-1 LaL-infected Cre-expressing cells, since this system could be used to package plasmid DNA harboring an origin of virus replication and one normal a signal. This is the first study in which accumulation both of uncleaved replication intermediates and of B capsids has been obtained in the presence of the full set of proteins required to package virus DNA.