Conformationally restricted phenalene and acenaphthene derivatives 5 were synthesized from phenalen-1-one and acenaphthen-1-one derivatives using the Horner-Emmons reaction. The amines were prepared through the corresponding isocyanates by the Curtius reaction on the acids or by the reduction of the nitriles. Amido derivatives (R(3) = Me, Et, n-Pr, c-Pr) were prepared by acylation of the amines with the appropriate anhydrides or acid chlorides or by the reductive acylation of the nitriles. The affinities of the compounds for melatonin binding sites were evaluated in vitro in binding assays using chicken brain melatonin and the human mt(1) and MT(2) receptors expressed in HEK-293 cells. The functionality of the compounds was determined by the potency to lighten the skin of Xenopus laevis tadpoles. Highly potent compounds were obtained. The data highlighted the role of the methoxy group located in the ortho position to the ethylamido chain as compounds with picomolar affinities such as 14c were obtained (chicken brain, hmt(1), hMT(2) K(i) values = 0.02, 0.008, 0.069 nM, respectively). Compound 14c was equipotent to the corresponding dimethoxy derivative 15c (chicken brain, hmt(1), hMT(2) K(i) values = 0.07, 0.016, 0.1 nM, respectively). On the other hand, the restricted conformation of the amido chain did not influence selectivity for the cloned hmt(1) and hMT(2) receptors. These compounds were also potent agonists of melanophore aggregation in X. laevis. 15a,c were several hundred fold more potent than melatonin (EC(50) = 0.025, 0.004 nM, respectively). Conformational studies indicated that the minimum energy folded conformation of the ethylamido chain could constitute the putative active form in the receptor site in agreement with previous results.