The broad substrate specificity of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) thymidine kinase (TK) has provided the basis for selective antiherpetic therapy and, more recently, suicide gene therapy for the treatment of cancer. We have now constructed an HSV-1 TK mutant enzyme, in which an asparagine (N) residue is substituted for glutamine (Q) at position 125, and have evaluated the effect of this amino acid change on enzymatic activity. In marked contrast with wild-type HSV-1 TK, which displays both thymidine kinase and thymidylate kinase activities, the HSV-1 TK(Q125N) mutant was unable to phosphorylate pyrimidine nucleoside monophosphates but retained significant phosphorylation activity for thymidine and a series of antiherpetic pyrimidine and purine nucleoside analogs. The abrogation of HSV-1 TK-associated thymidylate kinase activity resulted in a 100-fold accumulation of the monophosphate form of (E)-5-(2-bromovinyl)-2'-deoxyuridine (BVDU) in osteosarcoma cells transfected with the HSV-1 TK(Q125N) gene compared with osteosarcoma cells expressing wild-type HSV-1 TK. BVDU monophosphate accumulation gave rise to a much greater inhibition of cellular thymidylate synthase in HSV-1 TK(Q125N) gene-transfected cells than wild-type HSV-1 TK gene-transfected osteosarcoma tumor cells without significantly changing the cytostatic potency of BVDU for the HSV-1 TK gene-transfected tumor cells. Accordingly, the presence of the Q125N mutation in HSV-1 TK gene-transfected tumor cells was found to result in a multilog decrease in the cytostatic activity of those pyrimidine nucleoside analogs that in their monophosphate form do not have marked affinity for thymidylate synthase [i.e., 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosylthymine and (E)-5-(2-bromovinyl)-1-beta-D-arabinofuranosyluracil].