The safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetic profile, and preliminary activity of lamivudine (2'-deoxy-3'-thiacytidine), a novel cytidine nucleoside analogue with antiretroviral activity, in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected children beyond the neonatal period were studied. Ninety children received dosages of 1-20 mg/kg/day. Pharmacokinetic evaluation demonstrated serum and cerebrospinal fluid concentrations that increased proportionally to dose. As of January 1994, 11 children had been withdrawn from study for disease progression and 10 because of possible lamivudine-related toxicity, and 6 had died. CD4 and CD8 cell counts remained stable over 24 weeks in therapy-naive children and decrease slightly in previously treated children. Quantitative immune complex-dissociated p24 antigen and HIV RNA were decreased significantly at 12 and 24 weeks. In vitro resistance to lamivudine was documented in sequential virus isolates from some patients by 12 weeks. Lamivudine was well-tolerated and exhibited virologic activity in children, although future use in children is likely to be in combination antiretroviral regimens.