The C-X-C chemokine SDF-1 and its receptor CXCR4, mediate a pivotal role in the pathophysiology of HIV-1 infection and vascular inflammatory diseases. In this study, we investigated the pharmacological properties of SDF-1alpha interaction with CXCR4 in human leukemia cell lines. Our data, based on [125I]-SDF-1alpha radioligand binding, SDF-1alpha-induced [35S]-GTPgammaS binding and use of specific CXCR4 antagonist AMD3100 reveals the complex nature of SDF-1alpha-CXCR4 interaction. Firstly, homologous competition with cold SDF-1alpha revealed a bimodal ligand displacement curve and secondly, although AMD3100 inhibited both SDF-1alpha-mediated chemotaxis (IC(50)=4.7 nM) and [35S]-GTPgammaS binding (IC(50)=7.4 nM) with high affinity, it was intriguingly up to 3000-fold less potent (IC(50)=15.2 microM) in the radioligand binding assay. These results provide pharmacological evidence for the recently described two-site model for SDF-1alpha-CXCR4 interaction. Accordingly, inhibition of SDF-1alpha binding to one of the receptor sites is sufficient to antagonize function, without causing its complete displacement from the receptor. Furthermore, these findings have important implications in the development and evaluation of CXCR4-selective small molecule antagonists for therapeutic use.