Herpes simplex virus (HSV) immediate early (IE) transcription is known to be stimulated by a structural component of the virion which interacts, either directly or indirectly, with specific regulatory sequences located far upstream from IE messenger RNA 5'-termini. The aim of the work described in this paper is the mapping and identification of the virion component. Cloned HSV DNA fragments derived from various parts of the genome were cotransfected into BHK cells together with chimaeric plasmids which contained the thymidine kinase gene under IE control. Stimulation of thymidine kinase synthesis was elicited by cloned EcoRIi (0.63 to 0.72 map units), BamHIf (0.64 to 0.69) or EcoRIb (0.72 to 0.87). Cloned BamHIf had the same specificity as the virion component, since it stimulated thymidine kinase expression only from chimaeric plasmids which contained functional IE-specific regulatory sequences. The effect of EcoRIb was not confined to plasmids with IE-specific regulatory regions, suggesting a more general stimulatory role for one or more of the polypeptides encoded by this fragment. A subclone containing a 2.7 X 10(3) base-pair fragment of BamHIf (pMC1) was active in the cotransfection assay, and the effect was abolished by an eight base-pair insertion into the middle of this fragment. The only polypeptide known to map entirely within the HSV genome region defined by pMC1 was identified as the major tegument species Vmw65. The results therefore suggest that Vmw65 is the virion component which trans-activates HSV IE transcription.