It is likely that human genetic differences mediate susceptibility to viral infection and virus-triggered disorders. OAS genes encoding the antiviral enzyme 2',5'-oligoadenylate synthetase (2'5'AS) are critical components of the innate immune response to viruses. This enzyme uses adenosine triphosphate in 2'-specific nucleotidyl transfer reactions to synthesize 2',5'-oligoadenylates, which activate latent ribonuclease, resulting in degradation of viral RNA and inhibition of virus replication. We showed elsewhere that constitutive (basal) activity of 2'5'AS is correlated with virus-stimulated activity. In the present study, we asked whether constitutive activity is genetically determined and, if so, by which variants. Analysis of 83 families containing two parents and two children demonstrated significant correlations between basal activity in parent-child pairs (P<.0001) and sibling pairs (P=.0044), but not spousal pairs, suggesting strong genetic control of basal activity. We next analyzed association between basal activity and 15 markers across the OAS gene cluster. Significant association was detected at multiple markers, the strongest being at an A/G single-nucleotide polymorphism at the exon 7 splice-acceptor site (AG or AA) of the OAS1 gene. At this unusual polymorphism, allele G had a higher gene frequency in persons with high enzyme activity than in those with low enzyme activity (0.44 vs. 0.20; P=3 x 10(-11)). Enzyme activity varied in a dose-dependent manner across the GG, GA, and AA genotypes (tested by analysis of variance; P=1 x 10(-14)). Allele G generates the previously described p46 enzyme isoform, whereas allele A ablates the splice site and generates a dual-function antiviral/proapoptotic p48 isoform and a novel p52 isoform. This genetic polymorphism makes OAS1 an excellent candidate for a human gene that influences host susceptibility to viral infection.