CRM1-mediated nucleocytoplasmic transport plays an important role in many cellular processes and diseases. To investigate the structural basis required for the inhibition of the CRM1-mediated nuclear export we have synthesized analogs of a previously identified small molecule lead compound and monitored their activity against the Rev function of the human immunodeficiency virus. Microscopy studies show that the active congeners of this series inhibit the nucleocytoplasmic transport of Rev and the co-localization between Rev and CRM1 in living cells. Mechanism of action studies show their interaction with the Cys528 residue of CRM1 involving a Michael-addition type of reaction. However, structure-activity relationship demonstrates strict constraints to the structure of the inhibitors, and shows that activity is not solely correlated to Michael-addition suggesting a more complex mechanism of action. Our results are suggestive for the existence of a well-defined interaction at the CRM1-NES binding site. In addition, the most selective congener inhibited the HIV-1 production in latently infected cells. These specific CRM1 inhibitors are of interest as tool for analyzing the mechanisms of post-transcriptional control of gene expression and provide insight in the design of new agents. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.