The glycoprotein C (gC) gene of herpes simplex virus type 1 is a true late gene, in that its expression occurs late in infection with a strict requirement for viral DNA replication. Recently, we reported on gC expression during infection with mutant viruses carrying deletions in the gC gene promoter. Analysis of RNA extracted from cells infected with individual mutants showed that the DNA sequences required for regulated expression of this late gene lie within bases -34 to +124 relative to the 5' end of the mRNA. In the present study, the deleted gC promoter sequences were fused to the bacterial chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene and expression was measured in short-term transfection assays after transactivation by infection with HSV or cotransfections with a second plasmid carrying the immediate early genes of HSV-1. The 63 base pair sequence located between -34 to +29 on the gC promoter was sufficient to give induction of CAT activity following infection and on cotransfection with plasmids which code for the immediate early gene products ICP4 and ICPO. This 63 base pair region contains the TATA homology and the transcriptional start site of the gC gene, and apparently contains specific promoter elements not found in a similar region of the HSV TK promoter. This was shown by removing the distal upstream region of the TK promoter, 5' to -37, and found that the TK gene was no longer activated by infection or cotransfection with an a4-a0 gene containing plasmid.