Uptake, replication, and transneuronal passage of a swine neurotropic herpesvirus (pseudorabies virus, PRV) was evaluated in the rat CNS. PRV was localized in neural circuits innervating the tongue, stomach, esophagus and eye with light microscopic immunohistochemistry. In each instance, the distribution of PRV-immunoreactive neurons was entirely consistent with that observed following injection of cholera toxin- horseradish peroxidase conjugate (CT-HRP). Injections of the tongue resulted in retrograde transport of PRV and CT-HRP to hypoglossal motor neurons, while preganglionic neurons in the dorsal motor vagal nucleus or somatic motor neurons in the nucleus ambiguus were labeled following injections of the stomach or esophagus, respectively. At longer times after infection, viral antigens were found in astrocytes adjacent to infected neurons and their efferent axons and second-order neuron labeling became apparent. The distribution of second-order neurons was also entirely dependent upon the site of PRV injection. Following tongue injection, second-order neurons were observed in the trigeminal complex, the brain-stem tegmentum and in monoaminergic cell groups. Injection of the stomach or esophagus led to second-order neuron labeling confined to distinct subdivisions of the neucleus of the solitary tract and monoaminergic cell groups. Comparative quantitative analysis of the number of PRV immunoreactive neurons present in the diencephalon and brain stem following injection of virus into both the eye and stomach musculature of the same animal demonstrated that retrograde transport of PRV from the viscera was more efficient and occurred at a much faster rate than anterograde transport of virus. These data demonstrate projection-specific transport of PRV in the nervous system and provide further insight into the means through which this neurotropic virus infects the nervous system.