Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) is characterized by severe focal brain inflammation leading to substantial loss of nervous tissue. The authors established a model of Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV)-1-induced acute encephalitis in the rat by injecting into the whiskers' area a virus strain isolated from a fatal human HSE case. The model might resemble natural propagation of HSV-1 in humans; spreading from the mouth and lips via the trigeminal nerve to trigeminal ganglia and subsequently entering the central nervous system (CNS). HSV-1 infected Dark Agouti (DA) rats developed a well-synchronized disease and died 5 days after inoculation. HSV-1 detection by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), virus isolation and immunohistochemistry, magnetic resonance imaging, and histopathological examination verified dramatic encephalitis mainly in the brainstem, but also in the olfactory bulb and other segments of the brain of diseased rats. In contrast, Piebald Virol Glaxo (PVG) rats were completely resistant to disease, displaying a more rapid clearance of peripheral infection and no evidence of virus entering into neither the trigeminal ganglia nor the CNS. These results suggest a regulation of susceptibility to HSV-1-induced encephalitis at the level of peripheral infection and subsequent neuronal uptake/transport of the virus. This provides a basis for future positioning of genetic polymorphisms regulating HSE and for dissection of important pathogenetic mechanisms of this severe human disease.