BACKGROUND: Outcomes of neonates with herpes simplex virus (HSV) encephalitis are worse after infection with HSV-2 when compared with HSV-1. The proteins herpes virus entry mediator (HVEM) and nectin-1 mediate HSV entry into susceptible cells. Prior studies have shown receptor-dependent differences in pathogenesis that depend on route of inoculation and host developmental age. METHODS: We investigated serotype-related differences in HSV disease and their relationship to entry receptor availability in a mouse model of encephalitis. RESULTS: Mortality was attenuated in 7-d-old, wild-type (WT) mice inoculated with HSV-1(F) when compared with HSV-2(333). No serotype-specific differences were seen after inoculation of adult mice. HSV-1 pathogenesis was also attenuated relative to HSV-2 in newborn but not adult mice lacking HVEM or nectin-1. HSV-2 requires nectin-1 for encephalitis in adult but not newborn mice; in contrast, nectin-1 was important for HSV-1 pathogenesis in both age groups. Early viral replication was independent of age, viral serotype, or mouse genotype, suggesting host responses influence outcomes. In this regard, significantly greater amounts of inflammatory mediators were detected in brain homogenates from WT newborns 2 d after infection compared with adults and receptor-knockout newborns. CONCLUSION: Dysregulation of inflammatory responses induced by infection may influence the severity of HSV encephalitis.