We previously reported the establishment of an HEp2 cell line which expresses the US3 protein kinase (PK) of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) upon induction with IPTG. Here we report that expression, phosphorylation and ubiquitination of cytokeratin 17 (CK17) are enhanced in US3-expressing HEp2 cells. In vitro kinase and co-immunoprecipitation assays provided evidence that US3 PK directly phosphorylates CK17. Expression of US3 PK caused a significant decrease in filamentous staining of CK17, suggesting that phosphorylation of CK17 by US3 PK causes a disruption of intermediate filaments. Our observations suggest a role for US3 in the regulation of CKs and intermediate filaments in cells. Moreover, we found that infection of a keratinocyte-derived cell line, A431, with a US3-deficient virus, results in cytopathic effects that are morphologically distinct from those induced by wild-type and revertant viruses, suggesting that US3 PK may be important for interaction between HSV-2 and peripheral epithelial cells.