The immune response to cutaneous herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infection begins with remarkable rapidity. Activation of specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) begins within hours of infection, even though the response within the draining lymph nodes peaks nearly 5 days later. HSV gene products are classified into three main groups, alpha, beta, and gamma, based on their kinetics and requirements for expression. In C57BL/6 mice, the immunodominant epitope from HSV is derived from glycoprotein B (gB(498-505)). While gB is considered a gamma or "late" gene product, previous reports have indicated that some level of gene expression may occur soon after infection. Using brefeldin A as a specific inhibitor of viral antigen presentation to major histocompatibility complex class I-restricted CTL, we have formally addressed the timing of gB peptide expression in an immunologically relevant manner following infection. Presentation of gB peptide detected by T-cell activation was first observed within 2 h of infection. Comparison with another viral epitope expressed early during infection, HSV-1 ribonucleotide reductase, demonstrated that gB is presented with the same kinetics as this classical early-gene product. Moreover, this rapidity of gB expression was further illustrated via rapid priming of naïve transgenic CD8(+) T cells in vivo after HSV-1 infection of mice. These results establish that gB is expressed rapidly following HSV-1 infection, at levels capable of effectively stimulating CD8(+) T cells.