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To investigate early initiation events in the replication of herpes simplex virus type 1, we analyzed interactions of proteins from infected cell extracts with the small origin of herpes simplex virus type 1 (oris1). Using the mobility shift assay, we detected two origin-specific binding interactions. We characterized the more prominent interaction on both strands of the DNA duplex with DNase I protection and methylation interference assays. Protein binding protects 17 bases of DNA on each strand from DNase I. These sequences are located at the left end of the central palindrome and are shifted four bases relative to one another. On the basis of the DNase protection pattern, we believe this protein to be related to the origin-binding protein defined by Elias et al. (P. Elias, M.E. O'Donnell, E.S. Mocarski, and I.R. Lehman, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 83:6322-6326, 1986). Our DNase I footprint shows both strong and weak areas of protection. The regions strongly protected from DNase I align with the essential contact residues identified by interference footprinting. Methylation interference defines a small binding domain of 8 base pairs: 5'-GTTCGCAC-3'/3'-CAAGCGTG-5'. This recognition sequence contains two inverted 5'-GT(T/G)CG-3' repeats which share a 2-base overlap; thus, the origin-binding protein probably binds to the inverted repeats as a dimer.