A guanine derivative with an acyclic side chain, 2-hydroxyethoxymethyl, at position 9 has potent antiviral activity [dose for 50% inhibition (ED50) = 0.1 μM] against herpes simplex virus type 1. This acyclic nucleoside analog, termed acycloguanosine, is converted to a monophosphate by a virus-specified pyrimidine deoxynucleoside (thymidine) kinase and is subsequently converted to acycloguanosine di- and triphosphates. In the uninfected host cell (Vero) these phosphorylations of acycloguanosine occur to a very limited extent. Acycloguanosine triphosphate inhibits herpes simplex virus DNA polymerase (DNA nucleotidyltransferase) 10-30 times more effectively than cellular (HeLa S3) DNA polymerase. These factors contribute to the drug's selectivity; inhibition of growth of the host cell requires a 3000-fold greater concentration of drug than does the inhibition of viral multiplication. There is, moreover, the strong possibility of chain termination of the viral DNA by incorporation of acycloguanosine. The identity of the kinase that phosphorylates acycloguanosine was determined after separation of the cellular and virus-specified thymidine kinase activities by affinity chromatography, by reversal studies with thymidine, and by the lack of monophosphate formation in a temperature-sensitive, thymidine kinase-deficient mutant of the KOS strain of herpes simplex virus type 1 (tsA1).