Although herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is known to reside latently in trigeminal ganglia between episodes of reactivation, the mechanisms involved in restricting the virus to this state are not understood. Using in situ nucleic acid hybridization methods, we show that there is HSV-encoded RNA in ganglion cells from 10 of 12 seropositive and zero of three seronegative patients studied at autopsy. Transcripts mapping to the region encoding the immediate-early polypeptide ICPO and the latency-associated transcript (LAT) were detected in the nuclei of these neurons. No other region of the HSV-1 genome was found to be expressed. When carefully defined probes were used to identify the transcripts, RNA corresponding to the LAT and, rarely, to ICPO was found. These results suggest that HSV-1 latency is an active process and that the LAT may be involved in regulating viral genetic expression.