Human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) is a gammaherpesvirus that is present primarily in a state of low level persistence in primary effusion lymphoma cell lines. Using BCBL-1 cells that harbour HHV-8 but lack Epstein-Barr virus, we demonstrate that sodium butyrate is much more effective than the phorbol ester 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol-13-acetate (TPA) at inducing high levels of class II and III virus transcription and viral DNA replication, but also initiates apoptosis. Apoptosis occurs prior to assembly of virions when high concentrations of butyrate (1-3 mM) are used, whereas reduction of butyrate concentration to 0.3 mM decreases the rate of apoptosis and results in production and secretion of enveloped virions that are visualized at high number by electron microscopy in approximately 20% of BCBL-1 cells. Butyrate induces much higher levels of multiple class II and class III transcripts than does TPA, including v-MIPI, v-IL-6, v-Bcl-2, vGPCR and ORF26. A decrease in concentration of butyrate from 3 to 0.3 mM delays the peak induction of these genes, but peak levels remain higher than peak levels in response to TPA. These studies indicate that the massive apoptosis induced by 3 mM butyrate could be diminished and delayed by reduction of butyrate concentration to 0.3 mM, thereby allowing expression of high levels of lytic-associated genes and production of high yields of HHV-8 virions.