The behaviour of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) strain 17 in tissue cultures of PC12 cells treated with nerve growth factor (NGF) was studied. PC12 cells respond to NGF by ceasing to proliferate and extending long neurites. After differentiation with NGF, cultures were infected with HSV-1 and maintained in the presence of the hormone for several weeks. These long-term infected cultures were tested for HSV DNA, transcripts and the ability to produce virus, before and after NGF removal. Before NGF removal, the cultures were characterized by little or no virus production and the presence of HSV-1 DNA in a predominantly endless form. In situ analysis of long-term infected cultures revealed latency-associated transcript expression in only a portion of the cells. However, as shown by an infectious centre assay, virus was present in almost all cells in the population. Moreover, removal of NGF from long-term cultures resulted in the appearance of significantly increased amounts of virus in the media. The degree to which this system resembles HSV latency in vivo is discussed.