Ten pyrimidine nucleoside analogues, including (B)-5-(2-bromovinyl)-2'-deoxyuridine (BVDU) and closely related analogues, were evaluated for their cytostatic activity against human osteosarcoma cells transfected with the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) thymidine kinase (tk) (ATP:thymidine 5' phosphotransferase, EC 184.108.40.206) gene. (E)-5-(2-bromovinyl)-1-beta-D-arabinofuranosyluracil (BVaraU), (E)-5-(2-iodovinyl)-2'-deoxy-2'-fluoro-1-beta-D-arabinofuranosyluracil (IVFAU) and (E)-5-(2-bromovinyl)-2'-deoxy-4'-thiouridine (S-BVDU) were among the most potent inhibitors of VZVtk gene-transfected cell proliferation. They displayed an inhibitory activity at drug concentrations that were up to four orders of magnitude lower than those required to inhibit the corresponding nontransfected tumor cells. Inhibition of cellular DNA polymerase and/or incorporation of the drugs into cellular DNA may be a likely target for the cytostatic activity of the BVDU derivatives against the VZVtk gene-transfected tumor cells. These compounds were approximately 40- to 80-fold more potent cytostatic agents in VZVtk gene-transfected cells than the anti-VZV compound 6-methoxy-9-beta-D-arabinofuranosylpurine (araM), and at least five- to 50-fold more cytostatic than ganciclovir in HSV-1tk gene-transfected murine mammary carcinoma FM3A cells. In addition, the intrinsic resistance of BVaraU, IVFAU and S-BVDU to glycosidic bond cleavage by mammalian dThd phosphorylases makes them promising candidate compounds for the treatment of VZVtk gene-transfected tumors in vivo.