The ability to direct foreign gene expression from the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) genome during an acute or latent infection is a subject of increasing importance in the utilization of HSV vectors for gene therapy. Little is known about the types of transcription factors present in neurons or about whether different neuronal populations within a ganglion vary in their complement of these factors. With respect to HSV-1 latency, it is not known how or why the latency-associated transcript (LAT) promoter is able to function continually during latency while all other viral promoters are inactive. To further studies of these two phenomena, we constructed seven recombinant viruses with various promoter constructs driving expression of the lacZ reporter gene. Each construct was inserted into HSV-1 at the glycoprotein C locus, and recombinant viruses were evaluated for the ability to express β-galactosidase during acute and latent viral infections in murine dorsal root ganglia. During acute infection of murine dorsal root ganglia, the activities of the promoters varied over a wide range. Constructs containing the murine metallothionein promoter (MT1), the phosphoglycerate kinase promoter, the Moloney murine leukemia virus long terminal repeat (LTR), or the region upstream of and including the HSV LAT core promoter (LAT) were active during the acute but not the latent phase of infection. The addition of transcription factor binding sites present in the upstream LAT region to the MT1 and LTR promoters (LAT-MT1 and LAT-LTR, respectively) significantly increased acute-phase expression. Despite these high initial rates of transcription, of all the promoter constructs only LAT-LTR was able to remain transcriptionally active after the establishment of a latent state. Thus, the Moloney murine leukemia virus LTR provides a DNA element which functions to prevent promoter inactivation during latency. An analogous HSV long-term-expression element is evidently not present in the upstream LAT promoter, indicating that the HSV long-term-expression function is provided by a region outside of that which gives high-level neuronal expression during the acute phase of infection.