Didanosine is a dideoxynucleoside analogue, which is phosphorylated to the active metabolite dideoxyadenosine triphosphate (ddATP) intracellularly. At therapeutic concentrations, ddATP inhibits HIV replication by inhibiting HIV reverse transcriptase. Didanosine is established as a first-line treatment for patients with HIV disease and has recently been shown to be superior to zidovudine monotherapy in the treatment of patients with intermediate-stage HIV infection. In clinical practice, however, combination regimens of antiretroviral drugs are generally considered preferable to monotherapy as first-line treatment for most patients with HIV disease. Importantly, 2 large multicentre studies have demonstrated that combination therapy with didanosine and zidovudine was more effective than zidovudine monotherapy in delaying disease progression and death in patients with intermediate or advanced HIV disease. In other comparative studies, improvements in surrogate markers of HIV disease were generally greater in patients who received combination therapy than in recipients of antiretroviral drug monotherapy. Improvements in surrogate markers were also observed in children who received didanosine monotherapy in several clinical trials. Although the efficacy of combination antiretroviral drug therapy has not yet been investigated extensively in children, a combination regimen of didanosine and zidovudine was well tolerated and achieved beneficial effects on surrogate markers if HIV disease. In addition, preliminary findings of a larger study have shown that disease progression was delayed in children and adolescents who received didanosine plus zidovudine combination therapy compared with those receiving zidovudine monotherapy. Didanosine has a tolerability profile that is distinctly different from that of zidovudine. In particular, didanosine exhibits only minimal haematological toxicity when administered either as a single agent or in combination with zidovudine. The most serious dose-limiting adverse effects associated with didanosine treatment are peripheral neuropathy and pancreatitis. In conclusion, didanosine monotherapy is an effective treatment of HIV infection. However, combination antiretroviral therapy is the optimal treatment strategy for most patients, and didanosine is now firmly established as a component of combination antiretroviral drug regimens for the first-line treatment of patients with HIV disease.