A series of native and chemically derivatized lactoferrins (Lfs) purified from milk and colostrum were assayed in vitro for their anti-HIV and anti-HCMV-cytopathic effects in MT4 cells and fibroblasts respectively. All Lfs from bovine and human milk or colostrum were able to completely block HCMV replication as well as inhibited HIV-1 induced cytopathic effects. Through acylation of the amino function of the lysine residues in Lf, using anhydrides of succinic acid or cis-aconitic acid, negatively charged Lf derivatives were obtained that all showed a strong antiviral activity against the HIV-1 in vitro. Acylated-Lf exhibited a 4-fold stronger antiviral effect on HIV-1 than the parent compound but the activity on HCMV was abolished. Peptide scanning studies indicated that the native Lf as well as acylated Lf strongly bind to the V3 domain of the HIV envelope protein gp120, with Kd values in the same concentration range as the in vitro IC50. Therefore, shielding of this domain, resulting in inhibition of the virus-cell fusion and entry of the virus in MT4 cells is the likely mechanism underlying the anti-HIV activity. In contrast, addition of positive charges to Lf through amination of the proteins resulted in an increased anti-HCMV activity and a loss of anti-HIV activity, with anti-HCMV IC50 values in the low micromolar concentration range. The N-terminal portion of LF appeared essential to this anti-HCMV effect. The specific distribution of positively and negatively charged domains in the molecule appears to be important in both the anti-HIV and anti-HCMV effects.