Dipyridamole has been shown to enhance the in vitro activity of antimetabolite anticancer drugs through the inhibition of nucleoside transport. However, the clinical potential of dipyridamole has not been realized because of the avid binding of the drug to the plasma protein alpha1-acid glycoprotein (AGP). Dipyridamole analogues that retain potent nucleoside transport inhibitory activity in the presence of AGP are described and their ability to enhance the growth inhibitory and cytotoxic effects of thymidylate synthase (TS) inhibitors has been evaluated. Three dipyridamole analogues (NU3026, NU3059 and NU3060) were shown to enhance the growth inhibitory activity of the TS inhibitor CB3717 and block thymidine rescue in L1210 cells. The extent of potentiation at a fixed analogue concentration (10 microM) was related to the potency of inhibition of thymidine uptake. A further analogue, NU3076, was identified, which was more potent than dipyridamole with a Ki value for inhibition of thymidine uptake of 0.1 microM compared to 0.28 microM for dipyridamole. In marked contrast to dipyridamole, inhibition of thymidine uptake by NU3076 was not significantly affected by the presence of AGP (5 mg ml(-1)). NU3076 and dipyridamole produced equivalent potentiation of the cytotoxicity of the non-classical antifolate TS inhibitor, nolatrexed, in L1210 cells with both compounds significantly reducing the LC90, by > threefold in the absence of salvageable thymidine. Thymidine rescue of L1210 cells from nolatrexed cytotoxicity was partially blocked by both 1 microM NU3076 and 1 microM dipyridamole. NU3076 also caused a significant potentiation of FU cytotoxicity in L1210 cells. These studies demonstrate that nucleoside transport inhibition can be maintained in the absence of AGP binding with the dipyridamole pharmacophore and that such analogues can enhance the cytotoxicity of TS inhibitors.