Multiple human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) strains frequently coexist in patients with AIDS, and chronic ganciclovir treatment may favor the emergence of ganciclovir-resistant viral mutants. We report the molecular and biochemical characterization of a HCMV ganciclovir-resistant strain (VR3480) previously recovered from a patient with AIDS who was undergoing multiple courses of ganciclovir treatment (G. Gerna, F. Baldanti, M. Zavattoni, A. Sarasini, E. Percivalle, and M. G. Revello, Antiviral Res. 19:333-345, 1992). Ganciclovir resistance of strain VR3480 was related to impaired ability to monophosphorylate the drug, as indicated by the finding that ganciclovir phosphorylation values for VR3480 were 30% of those shown by the HCMV reference strain AD169 in an in vitro activity assay. Sequencing of the UL97 gene of VR3480, which encodes the viral kinase responsible for ganciclovir phosphorylation, showed an in-frame deletion of three nucleotides resulting in the loss of a leucine at position 595 in the polypeptide. Mutant VR3480 UL97 DNA was able to transfer resistance to the AD169 strain in marker rescue experiments. Analysis of virus isolates and blood polymorphonuclear leukocyte samples spanning the 2-year follow-up period of the patient showed that ganciclovir-resistant strain VR3480 arose ex novo during prolonged antiviral treatment and accounted for the majority of virus load circulating in blood during the period of clinical resistance to ganciclovir treatment.