A technique is described for the detection of HSV-DNA in very small volumes (5-10 microliters) of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The method was evaluated in CSF samples of 4-6-week-old mice inoculated with HSV-1 via the corneal route. The sensitivity of the PCR assay was compared with results of spin-amplified viral culture with immunofluorescent visualization (SAC/IF), routine viral culture (RVC) and radioactive dot-blot hybridization (DBA) in CSF samples obtained from other mice. The results show the PCR to be superior over the other techniques: infectious virus or viral DNA in CSF was demonstrated by PCR, SAC/IF, RVC and DBA in 68, 55, 20 and 2.5%, respectively. These results show the feasibility of the PCR for a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis of human HSV-encephalitis.