The gene designated gamma 134.5 maps in the inverted repeats flanking the long unique sequence of herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) DNA, and therefore it is present in two copies per genome. This gene is not essential for viral growth in cell culture. Four recombinant viruses were genetically engineered to test the function of this gene. These were (i) a virus from which both copies of the gene were deleted, (ii) a virus containing a stop codon in both copies of the gene, (iii) a virus containing after the first codon an insert encoding a 16-amino acid epitope known to react with a specific monoclonal antibody, and (iv) a virus in which the deleted sequences were restored. The viruses from which the gene was deleted or which carried stop codons were avirulent on intracerebral inoculation of mice. The virus with the gene tagged by the sequence encoding the epitope was moderately virulent, whereas the restored virus reacquired the phenotype of the parent virus. Significant amounts of virus were recovered only from brains of animals inoculated with virulent viruses. Inasmuch as the product of the gamma 134.5 gene extended the host range of the virus by enabling it to replicate and destroy brain cells, it is a viral neurovirulence factor.