Herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) establish latency and express the latency-associated transcript (LAT) preferentially in different murine sensory neuron populations, with most HSV-1 LAT expression in A5+ neurons and most HSV-2 LAT expression in KH10+ neurons. To study the mechanisms regulating the establishment of HSV latency in specific subtypes of neurons, cultured dissociated adult murine trigeminal ganglion (TG) neurons were assessed for relative permissiveness for productive infection. In contrast to that for neonatal TG, the relative distribution of A5+ and KH10+ neurons in cultured adult TG was similar to that seen in vivo. Productive infection with HSV was restricted, and only 45% of cultured neurons could be productively infected with either HSV-1 or HSV-2. A5+ neurons supported productive infection with HSV-2 but were selectively nonpermissive for productive infection with HSV-1, a phenomenon that was not due to restricted viral entry or DNA uncoating, since HSV-1 expressing β-galactosidase under the control of the neurofilament promoter was detected in ~90% of cultured neurons, with no preference for any neuronal subtype. Infection with HSV-1 reporter viruses expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) from immediate early (IE), early, and late gene promoters indicated that the block to productive infection occurred before IE gene expression. Trichostatin A treatment of quiescently infected neurons induced productive infection preferentially from non-A5+ neurons, demonstrating that the nonpermissive neuronal subtype is also nonpermissive for reactivation. Thus, HSV-1 is capable of entering the majority of sensory neurons in vitro; productive infection occurs within a subset of these neurons; and this differential distribution of productive infection is determined at or before the expression of the viral IE genes.