In situ hybridisation was performed with a biotinylated DNA probe for herpes simplex virus (HSV) using high temperature denaturation on formalin fixed, paraffin wax sections of lung, brain, ganglion and keratinising and non-keratinising squamous epithelia. Eosinophilic viral nuclear inclusions or characteristically moulded multiple nuclei with altered chromatin, which were present in two cases of HSV encephalitis and one case of viral pneumonitis, all showed complete hybridisation visualised by an alkaline phosphatase/nitroblue tetrazolium detector system. HSV encephalitis and trigeminal ganglionitis, which were confirmed serologically or clinicopathologically but lacked nuclear changes, also gave positive dense nuclear signal in neurons, glias and satellite cells. No staining was present in the ganglion cells in trigeminal zoster, the glia in progressive multifocal leucoencephalopathy, or in a variety of cells in a lung coinfected with cytomegalovirus. In 10 herpetic blisters of squamous epithelia, infected cells hybridised strongly, while morphologically similar herpes zoster lesions remained negative. In neural tissues non-hybridisation staining was most obtrusive in corpora amylacea and seemed to reflect nonspecific probe adherence. In squamous epithelium, major non-hybridisation staining was caused by probe and antibody possibly adhering to intracellular keratin. The HSV probe permits specific detection of virus in the absence of characteristic nuclear changes and allows varicella zoster virus to be differentiated from HSV, provided that the aforementioned problems with non-hybridisation staining are borne in mind.