In this report we propose a model in which after the herpes simplex virus (HSV) capsid docks at the nuclear pore, the tegument protein attached to the capsid must be cleaved by a serine or a cysteine protease in order for the DNA to be released into the nucleus. In support of the model are the following results. (i) Exposure of cells at the time of or before infection to l-(tosylamido-2-phenyl) ethyl chloromethyl ketone (TPCK), a serine-cysteine protease inhibitor, prevents the release of viral DNA or expression of viral genes. TPCK does not block viral gene expression after entry of viral DNA into the nucleus. (ii) The tegument protein VP1-2, the product of the U(L)36 gene, is cleaved shortly after the entry of the HSV 1 (HSV-1) virion into the cell. (iii) The proteolytic cleavage of VP1-2 does not occur in cells that are infected with HSV-1 under conditions that prevent the release of the viral DNA into the nucleus. (iv) The proteolytic cleavage of VP1-2 occurs only after the capsid is attached to the nuclear pore. Thus, TPCK prevented the release of HSV-1 DNA into the nucleus when added to medium 1 hour after infection with tsB7 at 39.5 degrees C followed by a shift down to the permissive temperature. The ts lesion maps in the U(L)36 gene. At the nonpermissive temperature, the capsids accumulate at the nuclear pore but the DNA is not released into the nucleus.