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The herpes simplex virus (HSV) genome contains both cis- and trans-acting elements which are important in viral DNA replication. The cis-acting elements consist of three origins of replication: two copies of oriS and one copy of oriL. It has previously been shown that five cloned restriction fragments of HSV-1 DNA together can supply all of the trans-acting functions required for the replication of plasmids containing oriS or oriL when cotransfected into Vero cells (M. D. Challberg, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 83:9094-9098, 1986). These observations provide the basis for a complementation assay with which to locate all of the HSV sequences which encode trans-acting functions necessary for origin-dependent DNA replication. Using this assay in combination with the data from large-scale sequence analysis of the HSV-1 genome, we have now identified seven HSV genes which are necessary for transient replication of plasmids containing either oriS or oriL. As shown previously, two of these genes encode the viral DNA polymerase and single-stranded DNA-binding protein, which are known from conventional genetic analysis to be essential for viral DNA replication in infected cells. The functions of the products of the remaining five genes are unknown. We propose that the seven genes essential for plasmid replication comprise a set of genes whose products are directly involved in viral DNA synthesis.