Various polyoxometalates proved inhibitory to the replication of a number of enveloped DNA and RNA viruses, i.e., herpesviruses (herpes simplex and cytomegalo), togaviruses (Sindbis), paramyxoviruses (respiratory syncytial), rhabdoviruses (vesicular stomatitis), arenaviruses (Junin and Tacaribe), and retroviruses [human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and type 2 (HIV-2), simian immunodeficiency virus, and murine sarcoma virus]. The most potent compounds, i.e., JM1590 [K13[Ce(SiW11O39)2]. 26H2O] and JM2766 [K6[BGa(H2O)W11O39]. 15H2O], inhibited HIV-1 and simian immunodeficiency virus at concentrations as low as 0.008-0.8 microM. The polyoxometalates also inhibited giant cell formation in co-cultures of HIV-infected HUT-78 cells and uninfected MOLT-4 cells. Studies designed to unravel the mechanism of action of these compounds revealed that they inhibit the reverse transcriptase activity associated with HIV. The polyoxometalates also proved inhibitory to the binding of HIV-1 virions to the cells. From "time of addition" experiments, whereby the polyoxometalates were added at different times after virus infection, their mechanism of anti-HIV action could be attributed to inhibition of virus-cell binding. There was a good correlation (r = 0.84) between the inhibitory effects of the compounds on HIV-1-induced cytopathicity and their inhibitory effects on syncytium formation and a close correlation (r = 0.902) between their inhibitory effects on syncytium formation and their interaction with gp120, whereas there was no correlation between their anti-HIV-1 activity and their inhibitory effects on HIV-1 reverse transcriptase. In flow cytometric studies, the compounds did not interfere with the binding of OKT4A/Leu-3a monoclonal antibody to the CD4 receptor of uninfected cells, but they inhibited binding of anti-gp120 monoclonal antibody to HIV-1-infected cells. Thus, the binding of the polyoxometalates to the viral envelope glycoprotein gp120 is responsible for their anti-HIV activity.