Novel sulfonamide inhibitors of the zinc enzyme carbonic anhydrase (CA, EC 188.8.131.52) were prepared by reaction of aromatic or heterocyclic sulfonamides containing amino, imino, or hydrazino moieties with N,N-dialkyldithiocarbamates in the presence of oxidizing agents (sodium hypochlorite or iodine). The N,N-dialkylthiocarbamylsulfenamido-sulfonamides synthesized in this way behaved as strong inhibitors of human CA I and CA II (hCA I and hCA II) and bovine CA IV (bCA IV). For the most active compounds, inhibition constants ranged from 10(-8) to 10(-9) M (for isozymes II and IV). Three of the derivatives belonging to this new class of CA inhibitors were also tested as inhibitors of tumor cell growth in vitro. These sulfonamides showed potent inhibition of growth against several leukemia, non-small cell lung, ovarian, melanoma, colon, CNS, renal, prostate and breast cancer cell lines. With several cell lines. GI50 values of 10-75 nM were observed. The mechanism of antitumor action with the new sulfonamides reported here remains obscure, but may involve inhibition of CA isozymes which predominate in tumor cell membranes (CA IX and CA XII), perhaps causing acidification of the intercellular milieu, or inhibition of intracellular isozymes which provide bicarbonate for the synthesis of nucleotides and other essential cell components (CA II and CA V). Optimization of these derivatives from the SAR point of view, might lead to the development of effective novel types of anticancer agents.