The acyclic nucleoside phosphonate analog 9-(2-phosphonylmethoxyethyl)adenine (PMEA) was recently found to be effective as an inhibitor of visna virus replication and cytopathic effect in sheep choroid plexus cultures. To study whether PMEA also affects visna virus infection in sheep, two groups of four lambs each were inoculated intracerebrally with 10(6.3) TCID50 of visna virus strain KV1772 and treated subcutaneously three times a week with PMEA at 10 and 25 mg/kg, respectively. The treatment was begun on the day of virus inoculation and continued for 6 weeks. A group of four lambs were infected in the same way but were not treated. The lambs were bled weekly or biweekly and the leukocytes were tested for virus. At 7 weeks after infection, the animals were sacrificed, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and samples of tissue from various areas of the brain and from lungs, spleen, and lymph nodes were collected for isolation of virus and for histopathologic examination. The PMEA treatment had a striking effect on visna virus infection, which was similar for both doses of the drug. Thus, the frequency of virus isolations was much lower in PMEA-treated than in untreated lambs. The difference was particularly pronounced in the blood, CSF, and brain tissue. Furthermore, CSF cell counts were much lower and inflammatory lesions in the brain were much less severe in the treated lambs than in the untreated controls. The results indicate that PMEA inhibits the propagation and spread of visna virus in infected lambs and prevents brain lesions, at least during early infection. The drug caused no noticeable side effects during the 6 weeks of treatment.