Infection of human diploid embryonic lung (MRC5) cells by human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), strain AD169, increased the activity of a key enzyme in the synthesis of polyamines: S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase (E.C. 18.104.22.168). The initial peak of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase activity occurred about 15 h postinfection. S-Adenosylmethionine decarboxylase was purified using a highly specific affinity chromatography step from HCMV-infected and control uninfected MRC5 cells. No difference was found between the two enzymes in their stability to heat or effect of pH on activity. Both enzymes were activated only by putrescine. The appKm for S-adenosylmethionine for the virus-induced enzyme was 1.7 times higher than the appKm for the control enzyme. The most dramatic difference observed was in the effect of high salt concentration on enzyme activity. S-Adenosylmethionine decarboxylase from HCMV-infected cells was unaffected by 0.8 M NaCl, whereas the enzyme from uninfected cells was inhibited by 50% at 0.45 M NaCl and was significantly inhibited at a concentration of 0.8 M NaCl. Thus, different forms of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase probably exist in infected and uninfected MRC5 cells. © 1994.