Herpesvirus genes are temporally expressed during permissive infections, but how their expression is regulated at late times is poorly understood. Previous studies indicate that the human cytomegalovirus (CMV) gene, UL79, is required for late gene expression. However, the mechanism remains to be fully elucidated, and UL79 homologues in other CMVs have not been studied. Here, we characterized the role of the conserved murine CMV (MCMV) gene M79. We showed that M79 encoded a protein (pM79) which was expressed with early-late kinetics and localized to nuclear viral replication compartments. M79 transcription was significantly decreased in the absence of viral DNA synthesis but markedly stimulated by pM79. To investigate its role, we created the recombinant virus SMin79, in which pM79 expression was disrupted. While marker-rescued virus grew efficiently in fibroblasts, SMin79 failed to produce infectious progeny but was rescued by pM79 expression in trans. During SMin79 infection, representative viral immediate-early and early gene products as well as viral DNA accumulated sufficiently. Formation of viral replication compartments also appeared normal. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis analysis indicated that the overall structure of replicating viral DNA was indistinguishable between wild-type and SMin79 infection. Viral tiled array and quantitative PCR analysis revealed that many late transcripts sensitive to a viral DNA synthesis inhibitor (phosphonoacetic acid) were markedly reduced by pM79 mutation. This study indicates that cytomegaloviruses use a conserved mechanism to promote transcription at late stages of infection and that pM79 is a critical regulator for at least a subset of viral DNA synthesis-dependent transcripts.