Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) glycoprotein E (gE) promotes cell-to-cell spread at basolateral surfaces of epithelial cells, but its activity in neurons is less clear. We used the mouse retina infection model and neuronal cell cultures to define the spread phenotype of gE mutant viruses. Wild-type (WT) and gE-null (NS-gEnull) viruses both infected retina ganglion cell neurons; however, NS-gEnull viral antigens failed to reach the optic nerve, which indicates a defect in axonal localization. We evaluated two Fc receptor-negative gE mutant viruses containing four amino acid inserts in the gE ectodomain. One mutant virus failed to spread from the retina into the optic nerve, while the other spread normally. Therefore, the gE ectodomain is involved in axonal localization, and the Fc receptor and neuronal spread are mediated by overlapping but distinct gE domains. In the retina infection model, virus can travel to the brain via the optic nerve from presynaptic to postsynaptic neurons (anterograde direction) or via nerves that innervate the iris and ciliary body from postsynaptic to presynaptic neurons (retrograde direction). WT virus infected the brain by anterograde and retrograde routes, whereas NS-gEnull virus failed to travel by either pathway. The site of the defect in retrograde spread remains to be determined; however, infection of rat superior cervical ganglia neurons in vitro indicates that gE is required to target virion components to the axon initial segment. The requirement for gE in axonal targeting and retrograde spread highlights intriguing similarities and differences between HSV-1 and pseudorabies virus gE. Copyright © 2005, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.