Bicyclams, in which the cyclam (1,4,8,11-tetraazacyclotetradecane) moieties are tethered via an aliphatic bridge (i.e., propylene, as in JM2763) are potent and selective inhibitors of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and type 2 (HIV-2) (E. De Clercq, N. Yamamoto, R. Pauwels, M. Baba, D. Schols, H. Nakashima, J. Balzarini, Z. Debyser, B. A. Murrer, D. Schwartz, D. Thornton, G. Bridger, S. Fricker, G. Henson, M. Abrams, and D. Picker, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 89:5286-5290, 1992). We have now found that the bicyclam JM3100, in which the cyclam moieties are tethered by an aromatic bridge [i.e., phenylenebis(methylene)], inhibits the replication of various HIV-1 and HIV-2 strains in various cell lines at a 50% effective concentration (EC50) of 1 to 10 ng/ml, which is about 100-fold lower than the concentration required for JM2763 to inhibit HIV replication and at least 100,000-fold lower than the cytotoxic concentration (> 500 micrograms/ml). In primary T4 lymphocytes or primary monocytes, JM3100 proved inhibitory to HIV-1(IIIB) and several clinical HIV-1 isolates at an EC50 of less than 1 ng/ml. On the basis of time-of-addition experiments, JM3100 appeared to interact with a viral uncoating event, and this was further corroborated by an uncoating assay in which RNase sensitivity of [5-3H]uridine-labeled virions was monitored. In addition, but possibly mechanistically related, JM3100 blocks formation of infectious particles. JM3100 was also found to interfere directly with virus-induced syncytium formation, albeit at a higher concentration (1 to 2 microgram/ml) than that required for inhibition of viral replication. Following subcutaneous injection of 10 mg of JM3100 per kg of body weight to rabbits, anti-HIV activity was detected in serum corresponding to serum drug levels exceeding for at least 6 h by >100-fold the EC(50) required to inhibit HIV replication in vitro. When combined with either 3'-azido-2',3' -dideoxythymidine or 2',3' -dideoxyinosine, JM3100 achieved a additive inhibition of HIV replication, and when repeatedly subcultivated in the presence of JM3100, the virus remained sensitive to the compound for at least 30 passages (120 days) in cell culture.