3,5-Diacyl-2,4-dialkyl-6-phenylpyridine derivatives have been found to be selective antagonists at both human and rat A3 adenosine receptors (Li et al. J. Med. Chem. 1998, 41, 3186-3201). In the present study, ring-constrained, fluoro, hydroxy, and other derivatives in this series have been synthesized and tested for affinity at adenosine receptors in radioligand binding assays. Ki values at recombinant human and rat A3 adenosine receptors were determined using [125I]AB-MECA (N6-(4-amino-3-iodobenzyl)-5'-N-methylcarbamoyladenosine). Selectivity for A3 adenosine receptors was determined vs radioligand binding at rat brain A1 and A2A receptors, and structure-activity relationships at various positions of the pyridine ring (the 3- and 5-acyl substituents and the 2- and 4-alkyl substituents) were probed. At the 5-position inclusion of a beta-fluoroethyl (7) or a gamma-fluoropropyl ester (26) was favorable for human A3 receptor affinity, resulting in Ki values of 4.2 and 9.7 nM, respectively, while the pentafluoropropyl analogue was clearly less potent at human A3 receptors. At the 2-, 3-, and 4-positions, fluoro or hydroxy substitution failed to enhance potency and selectivity at human A3 receptors. Several analogues were nearly equipotent at rat and human A3 receptors. To further define the pharmacophore conformationally, a lactam, a lactone, and thiolactones were tested in adenosine receptor binding. The most potent analogue in this group was compound 34, in which a thiolactone was formed between 3- and 4-positions and which had a Ki value of 248 nM at human A3 receptors. Using affinity data and a general pharmacophore model for A3 adenosine receptor antagonists recently proposed, we applied comparative molecular field analysis (CoMFA) to obtain a three-dimensional quantitative structure-activity relationship for pyridine derivatives, having good predictability (r2pred = 0.873) for compounds in the test set. A rhodopsin-based model of the human A3 receptor was built, and the pyridine reference ligand 2,3,4, 5-tetraethyl-6-phenyl-pyridine-3-thiocarboxylate-5-carboxylate (MRS 1476) was docked in the putative ligand binding site. Interactions between receptor transmembrane domains and the steric and the electrostatic contour plots obtained from the CoMFA analysis were analyzed.