CdG, the carbocyclic analog of 2'-deoxyguanosine, is active against herpes, hepatitis B, and human cytomegaloviruses. We have studied the interaction of the tritiated enantiomers of CdG with the herpes simplex virus type 1-specific thymidine kinase (HSV-1 TK) and have examined their metabolism in uninfected and HSV-1-infected cells. D- and L-CdG were equally effective competitive inhibitors of the phosphorylation of thymidine (dThd) by the partially purified HSV-1 TK (Ki values were 2.1 and 3.4 microM, respectively) and were also equal as substrates (Km values were 17 and 26 microM, respectively, and Vmax values of the enantiomers were equal and about 50% greater than the Vmax for dThd). The partially purified enzyme preparation, which contained cellular nucleotide kinase activities (pyruvate kinase also was present in the assay medium), converted D-CdG almost exclusively to the triphosphate and L-CdG almost exclusively to the monophosphate. Similarly, in virus-infected cells the D-enantiomer was converted predominantly to the triphosphate and the L-enantiomer predominantly to the monophosphate. In uninfected cells the results were qualitatively similar. In CEM cells deoxycytidine (dCyd) kinase (EC 184.108.40.206) seemed to be the enzyme principally responsible for the phosphorylation of both enantiomers, as shown by competition studies. Thus, both the HSV-1 TK and cellular dCyd kinase (of CEM cells) showed no selectivity for the enantiomers of CdG. This lack of enantiomeric specificity has obvious implications for the design of inhibitors of both viral proliferation and cellular metabolism.