Infected-cell protein 0 (ICP0), the product of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) immediate-early (IE) alpha0 gene, is a promiscuous transactivator of viral early (E) and late (L) gene expression. HSV mutants lacking ICP0 function are severely deficient in viral growth and protein synthesis, particularly at low multiplicities of infection. Early in the infectious process in vitro, ICP0 protein accumulates in distinct domains within the nucleus to form characteristic structures active in the transcription of viral genes. However, following infection of primary trigeminal ganglion cells in vitro with a recombinant HSV mutant that expresses only ICP0, we observed that ICP0 protein accumulated in the characteristic intranuclear distribution only in the nuclei of Schwann cells; neurons in the culture did not accumulate ICP0 despite expression of ICP0 RNA in those cells. The same phenomenon was observed in PC12 cells differentiated to assume a neuronal phenotype. In primary neurons in culture, the amount of ICP0 protein could be increased by pharmacologic inhibition of calcium-activated protease (calpain) activity or by inhibition of protein phosphatase 2B (calcineurin). The failure of ICP0 protein to accumulate in the nucleus of neurons suggests that one mechanism which may impair efficient replication of the virus in neurons, and thus favor the establishment of viral latency in those cells, may be found in the cell-specific processing of that IE gene product.