Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV, a betaherpes virus) is the cause of serious disease in immunologically compromised individuals, including those with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. One of the compounds used in the chemotherapy of HCMV infections is the nucleoside analogue 9-(1,3-dihydroxy-2-propoxymethyl)-guanine (ganciclovir). The mechanism of action of this drug is dependent on the formation of the nucleoside triphosphate, which is a strong inhibitor of the viral DNA polymerase. Thymidine kinase, which is encoded by many of the herpesviruses, catalyses the initial phosphorylation of ganciclovir. But there is no evidence for the coding of this enzyme by HCMV, and DNA sequence analysis of the HCMV genome has shown that there is no open reading frame characteristic of a herpesvirus thymidine kinase. Here we present biochemical and immunological evidence that the HCMV UL97 open reading frame codes for a protein capable of phosphorylating ganciclovir. This protein seems to be responsible for the selectivity of ganciclovir and will be useful tool in the understanding and refinement of the antiviral activity of new selective anti-HCMV compounds.