Individual variation in response to antiretroviral therapy is well-known, but it is not clear if demographic characteristics such as gender, age, and ethnicity are responsible for the variation. To optimize anti-HIV therapy and guide antiretroviral drug discovery, determinants that cause variable responses to therapy need to be evaluated. We investigated the determinants of intracellular concentrations of nucleoside analogs using peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 40 healthy donors. We observed individual differences in the concentrations of the intracellular nucleoside analogs; the mean concentrations of the triphosphate metabolite of ethynylstavudine (4'-Ed4T), zidovudine (AZT), and lamivudine (3TC) were 0.71 pmol/10(6) cells (minimum and maximum, 0.10 and 3.00 pmol/10(6) cells, respectively), 0.88 pmol/10(6) cells (minimum and maximum, 0.10 and 15.18 pmol/10(6) cells, respectively), and 1.70 pmol/10(6) cells (minimum and maximum, 0.20 and 7.73 pmol/10(6) cells, respectively). Gender and ethnicity had no effect on the concentration of 4'-Ed4T and 3TC metabolites. There was a trend for moderation of the concentrations of AZT metabolites by gender (P = 0.17 for gender·metabolite concentration). We observed variability in the activity and expression of cellular kinases. There was no statistically significant correlation between thymidine kinase 1 (TK-1) activity or expression and thymidine analog metabolite concentrations. The correlation between the activity of deoxycytidine kinase (dCK) and the 3TC monophosphate metabolite concentration showed a trend toward significance (P = 0.1). We observed an inverse correlation between the multidrug-resistant protein 2 (MRP2) expression index and the concentrations of AZT monophosphate, AZT triphosphate, and total AZT metabolites. Our findings suggest that the observed variation in clinical response to nucleoside analogs may be due partly to the individual differences in the intracellular concentrations, which in turn may be affected by the cellular kinases involved in the phosphorylation pathway and ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transport proteins.