The initiation site for transcription of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) gene encoding the major DNA-binding protein. ICP8, was mapped by nuclease S1 analysis of RNA-DNA hybrids. When RNA isolated from cells infected with HSV-1 was used, one major start site of ICP8 gene transcription was mapped at 89 base pairs to the right of the BstEII site at 0.409 map units. In cells transfected with a cloned ICP8 gene, the same major start site was detected either in the presence or absence of the immediate-early (alpha) genes encoding ICP4 or ICP0, which have been shown to stimulate ICP8 gene expression in transfected cells. Both ICP4 and ICP0 stimulated the accumulation of the ICP8 gene transcripts in the transient expression system, and their effects were synergistic. By comparison of the sequence of the putative promoter region of the ICP8 gene with the promoter of the HSV-1 TK gene, a significant similarity was detected between the three transcriptional regulatory signals of the TK gene and the upstream sequences of the ICP8 gene. Analysis of promoters of other delayed-early (beta) genes showed that they all contained regions of significant homology with the distal signals of the upstream sequences of the TK or ICP8 gene.