The inhibitory effect of (E)-5-(2-bromovinyl)-2'-deoxyuridine (BVDU) 5'-triphosphate on varicella zoster virus (VZV) DNA polymerase was studied using the parent strain (TK+-VZV) and the mutant strain (TK--VZV). The mutant strain was deficient in thymidine kinase (TK)-inducing activity and resistant to BVDU. In the absence of BVDU, TK--VZV and TK+-VZV induced an equivalent level of viral DNA polymerase activity in human embryo fibroblasts. In the presence of 5 microM BVDU, TK--VZV still induced viral DNA polymerase activity, whereas TK+-VZV failed to do so. BVDU 5'-triphosphate (BVDUTP) was considerably more inhibitory to the TK+- and TK--VZV DNA polymerases than to the cellular DNA polymerases. There were no significant differences in the affinity for dTTP as substrate and the sensitivity to BVDUTP as inhibitor between the TK+- and TK--VZV DNA polymerases. The Km value for dTTP and the Ki value for BVDUTP of the VZV DNA polymerases were 1.43 microM and 0.55 microM, respectively. The inhibitory effect of BVDUTP to VZV DNA polymerase was competitive with respect to the natural substrate.