Four kinds of 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosyl-5-halogenouracil were examined for inhibition of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and 2 (HSV-2) replication. 1-beta-D-Arabinofuranosyl-5-fluorouracil (ara-FU) was the most effective against HCMV, whereas 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosyl-5-bromouracil was the most effective against HSV-1 and HSV-2. The mechanism of action of ara-FU on HCMV replication was also studied. The dTTP pool size in human embryonic fibroblasts was increased 33-fold by HCMV infection. However, treatment with ara-FU decreased the size of the dTTP pool by approximately 50%. On the other hand, 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosyl-5-fluorouracil-5'-triphosphate inhibited HCMV DNA polymerase activity competitively with dTTP. These results suggest that ara-FU acts as a bifunctional inhibitor of HCMV replication. Ara-FU is phosphorylated by cellular thymidine kinase to 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosyl-5-fluorouracil-5'-monophosphate, which inhibits cellular thymidylate synthetase, which in turn decreases the dTTP pool size in infected cells. As the dTTP pool size is reduced, inhibition of viral DNA polymerase by 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosyl-5-fluorouracil-5'-triphosphate becomes more efficient.