Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) gene UL11 encodes a myristylated virion protein. In this paper we have characterized the UL11 product further and investigated its role in the virus life cycle. Wild-type HSV-1 strain 17syn+ expresses three electrophoretically distinguishable UL11 polypeptide species. Analysis of single plaque isolates demonstrated that two virus populations exist within the 17syn+ stock: a major population encoding only the two higher Mr species, and a minor population encoding the lowest Mr species alone. DNA sequence analysis suggests that the latter polypeptide differs from the former ones at a single amino acid residue only. The UL11 polypeptides are synthesized as delayed early gene products and are phosphorylated in vitro. Following subcellular fractionation of infected cells, they are found predominantly associated with membranes. Within the virus particle, they appear to reside within the tegument. An insertion mutant containing the lacZ gene from Escherichia coli within the UL11 open reading frame is viable in tissue culture, although it gives smaller plaques and is impaired for growth compared to the wild-type parent or revertant viruses; it does not have a temperature-sensitive or host-range phenotype. Thus, although required for efficient replication, the myristylated HSV-1 virion protein, in contrast to those of many other viruses, is not essential for virus growth in tissue culture.