PURPOSE OF THE REVIEW: This article summarizes knowledge of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections of the central nervous system (CNS). Disease pathogenesis, detection of DNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for diagnosis and prognosis, and approaches to therapy warrant consideration. RECENT FINDINGS: HSV infection of the CNS is one of few treatable viral diseases. Clinical trials indicate that outcome following neonatal herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infections of the CNS is significantly improved when 6 months of suppressive oral acyclovir therapy follows IV antiviral therapy. In contrast, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infections of the brain do not benefit from extended oral antiviral therapy. This implies a difference in disease pathogenesis between HSV-2 and HSV-1 infections of the brain. PCR detection of viral DNA in the CSF is the gold standard for diagnosis. Use of PCR is now being adopted as a basis for determining the duration of therapy in the newborn. SUMMARY: HSV infections are among the most common encountered by humans; seropositivity occurs in 50% to 90% of adult populations. Herpes simplex encephalitis, however, is an uncommon result of this infection. Since no new antiviral drugs have been introduced in nearly 3 decades, much effort has focused on learning how to better use acyclovir and how to use existing databases to establish earlier diagnosis.