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Recurrent herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) disease usually results from reactivation of latent virus in sensory neurons and transmission to peripheral sites. Therefore, defining the mechanisms that maintain HSV-1 in a latent state in sensory neurons may provide new approaches to reducing susceptibility to recurrent herpetic disease. After primary HSV-1 corneal infection, CD8(+) T cells infiltrate the trigeminal ganglia (TGs) of mice, and are retained in latently infected ganglia. Here we demonstrate that CD8(+) T cells that are present in the TGs at the time of excision can maintain HSV-1 in a latent state in sensory neurons in ex vivo TG cultures. Latently infected neurons expressed viral genome and some expressed HSV-1 immediate early and early proteins, but did not produce HSV-1 late proteins or infectious virions. Addition of anti-CD8alpha monoclonal antibody 5 d after culture initiation induced HSV-1 reactivation, as demonstrated by production of viral late proteins and infectious virions. Thus, CD8(+) T cells can prevent HSV-1 reactivation without destroying the infected neurons. We propose that when the intrinsic capacity of neurons to inhibit HSV-1 reactivation from latency is compromised, production of HSV-1 immediate early and early proteins might activate CD8(+) T cells aborting virion production.