Using a combination of in situ hybridization and Northern (RNA) blot analysis, we investigated herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) transcriptional activity in an ocular rabbit model of HSV-1 latency. Radioactively labeled cloned fragments, representing virtually the entire HSV-1 genome, were individually hybridized to RNA in sections of trigemincal ganglia taken from rabbits during the latent phase of infection with HSV-1 (McKrae). Our results suggest that two discrete latency-related RNAs (LR-RNAs) may be present. The LR-RNAs were localized mainly in the nuclei of neurons. The more abundant LR-RNA was detected in approximately 3% of all neurons examined and was designated major LR-RNA. The other LR-RNA, designated minor LR-RNA, was detected in approximately 0.3% of neurons from latently infected rabbits. The genes for the LR-RNAs mapped in the vicinity of the immediate-early gene ICP0 (also designated IE110). The gene for the major LR-RNA partially overlapped the left (3') end of the ICP0 gene. In situ hybridization with single-stranded RNA probes showed that this LR-RNA was of complementary sense to that of ICP0 mRNA. Northern blot analysis gave an approximately size for this LR-RNA of 1.8 to 2.2 kilobases. The minor LR-RNA mapped to or near the right (5') end of the ICP0 gene. The detection of LR-RNAs suggests the possibility that these RNAs or their products may play significant roles in the initiation and/or maintenance of HSV-1 latency.