(S)-1-[3-Hydroxy-2-(phosphonylmethoxy)propyl]cytosine (HPMPC) is an antiviral phosphonate nucleotide analogue that displays activity against a range of herpesviruses. Anion exchange high performance liquid chromatography analysis of the 60% methanol extract from [14C]HPMPC-treated cells reveals the formation of three major metabolites. Two of these were identified as phosphorylated forms of HPMPC, HPMPC phosphate, and HPMPC diphosphate, by liberation of HPMPC upon acid digestion and coelution with synthetic standards on high performance liquid chromatography. The third metabolite, which is resistant to alkaline phosphatase cleavage but sensitive to phosphodiesterase, is proposed to be an HPMPC phosphate adduct. In herpes simplex virus-1-infected cells the same three metabolites are detected, at concentrations comparable to those in uninfected cells. When HPMPC is removed from the medium, the concentrations of the metabolites in cells decrease slowly, with half-lives of approximately 6, 17, and 48 hr for HPMPC phosphate, HPMPC diphosphate, and the HPMPC phosphate adduct, respectively. HPMPC diphosphate inhibits herpes simplex virus-1 and -2 DNA polymerases with a lower Ki than that for DNA polymerase alpha, and enzyme inhibition is competitive in each case. The formation and the persistence of HPMPC phosphates in cells and the selective inhibition of viral DNA polymerases by HPMPC diphosphate can explain why cells pretreated with HPMPC remain refractory to viral infection even long after HPMPC is removed from the medium.