Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) immediate-early (IE) transcription is stimulated by virion phosphoprotein pp71, the product of gene UL82. It has previously been shown that pp71 interacts with the cellular protein hDaxx and, in the studies presented here, the significance of this interaction was investigated for HCMV IE gene expression. In co-transfection experiments, the presence of hDaxx increased the transcriptional response of the HCMV major IE promoter (MIEP) to pp71, but it was not possible to determine whether the effect was due to an interaction between the two proteins or to stimulation of hDaxx synthesis by pp71. The use of small interfering RNA (siRNA) in long- and short-term transfection approaches reduced intracellular hDaxx levels to no more than 3 % of normal. Infection of hDaxx-depleted cells with herpes simplex virus recombinants containing the HCMV MIEP revealed significantly greater promoter activity when hDaxx levels were minimal. Similarly, reducing intracellular hDaxx amounts resulted in greater IE gene expression during infection with an HCMV mutant lacking pp71, but had no effect on IE transcription during infection with wild-type HCMV. The results suggest that hDaxx is not important as a positive-acting factor for the stimulation of HCMV IE transcription by pp71. Instead, it appears that hDaxx acts as a repressor of IE gene expression, and it is proposed here that the interaction of pp71 with hDaxx is important to relieve repression and permit efficient initiation of productive replication.