- We have established two cell lines that constitutively synthesize a temperature-sensitive form of ICP4, the herpes simplex virus immediate-early protein that activates early and late transcription. ICP4 in both cell lines was confirmed to be functionally temperature sensitive when tested by complementation of an ICP4 deletion mutant virus for expression of viral early and late genes. When grown at the permissive temperature the two cell lines contained approximately 5 and 25%, respectively, of the ICP4 present in control HSV-infected cells. If the cells were grown at the nonpermissive temperature, ICP4 levels were reduced by approximately fourfold; a twofold reduction was observed in control cells synthesizing the wild-type protein. The lower levels of ICP4 at the nonpermissive temperature were the result of two effects: a decrease in mRNA which was similar in cells producing the mutant or wild-type form of ICP4 and a more rapid turnover of the protein which was greater for the mutant than for the wild-type form. Our observations of lower levels of ICP4 in producer cells differ from published reports of overproduction of immediate-early proteins at the nonpermissive temperature in human or hamster cells infected with ICP4 temperature-sensitive mutant viruses. This discrepancy may be related to cell species differences since we observed only a modest twofold overproduction of immediate-early proteins at the nonpermissive temperature in infections of mouse cell lines with an ICP4 temperature-sensitive mutant virus.