In herpes simplex virus (HSV)-infected cells, there is a sequential expression of viral genes. In vivo experiments have implicated the Mr 175,000 immediate early protein ICP4 (infected-cell polypeptide 4) in the regulation of viral RNA synthesis, but the mechanism whereby ICP4 regulates transcription of viral genes is at present unknown. In this report we describe experiments with an in vitro transcription system and a purified preparation of ICP4 (estimated 5% of total protein). Using DNA from the HSV glycoprotein D gene (gD) as the template, we have observed that specific binding occurs between ICP4 and DNA sequences adjacent to the gD gene promoter and ICP4 stimulates initiation of transcription from the gD gene. The degree of stimulation depends on the amount of ICP4 present in the incubation. The kinetics of RNA synthesis demonstrate that the protein acts at the initiation step of transcription. These results identify ICP4 as a viral transcription factor whose presence on DNA facilitates the formation of transcription complexes.