Chlamydiae have evolved a biphasic life cycle to facilitate their survival in two discontinuous habitats. The unique growth cycle is represented by two alternating forms of the organism, the elementary body and the reticulate body. Chlamydiae have an absolute nutritional dependency on the host cell to provide ribonucleoside triphosphates and other essential intermediates of metabolism. This report describes the pleiotropic effects of the purine antimetabolite 6-thioguanine on chlamydial replication. In order to display cytotoxicity, 6-thioguanine must first be converted to the nucleotide level by the host cell enzyme hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase. Our results show that 6-thioguanine is an effective inhibitor of chlamydial growth with either wild-type or hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase-deficient cell lines as the host. Interestingly, the mechanism of 6-thioguanine-induced inhibition of chlamydial growth is different depending on which cell line is used. With wild-type cells as the host, the cytotoxic effects of 6-thioguanine on chlamydial growth are relatively fast and irreversible. Under these circumstances, cytotoxicity likely results from the combined effect of starving chlamydiae for purine ribonucleotides and incorporation of host-derived 6-thioguanine-containing nucleotides into chlamydial nucleic acids. With hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase-deficient cells as the host, 6-thioguanine must be present at the start of the chlamydial infection cycle to be effective and the growth inhibition is reversible upon removal of the antimetabolite. These findings suggest that in hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase-deficient cells, the free base 6-thioguanine may inhibit the differentiation of elementary bodies to reticulate bodies. With hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase-deficient cells as the host, 6-thioguanine was used as a selective agent in culture to isolate a Chlamydia trachomatis isolate resistant to the effects of the drug. This drug resistant C. trachomatis isolate was completely resistant to 6-thioguanine in hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase-deficient cells; however, it displayed wildtype sensitivity to 6-thioguanine when cultured in wild-type host cells.