Peptidyl-prolyl cis/trans isomerization, observed in the native state of an increasing number of proteins, is of considerable biological significance. The first evidence for an asymmetric transmission along the polypeptide chain of the structural effects of prolyl isomerization is now derived from the statistics of the C(alpha)/C(alpha)-atom distance distributions in the crystal structures of 848 non-homologous proteins. More detailed information on how isomerization affects segments adjacent to proline is obtained from crystal structures of proteins, that are more than 95% homologous, and that exhibit two different states of isomerization at a particular prolyl bond. The resulting 64 cases, which represent 3.8% of the database used, form pairs of coordinates which were analyzed for the existence of isomer-specific intramolecular nonbonded C(alpha)/C(alpha)-atom distances around the critical proline, and for the positional preferences for particular amino acids in the isomeric sequence segment. The probability that a native protein exhibits both prolyl isomers in the crystalline state increases in particular with a Pro at the third position N-terminal to the isomeric bond (-3 position), and with Ser, Gly and Asp at the position preceding the isomeric bond (-1 position). Structural alignment of matched pairs of isomeric proteins generates three classes with respect to position-specific distribution of C(alpha)-atom displacements around an isomeric proline imide bond. In the majority of cases the distribution of these intermolecular isomer-specific C(alpha)-atom distances shows a symmetric behavior for the N-terminal and C-terminal segment flanking the proline residue, and the magnitude did not exceed 1.3+/-0.6 A including the C(alpha) atoms in proximity to the prolyl bond. However, in the remaining 12 protein pairs the structural changes are unidirectional relative to the isomerizing bond whereby the magnitude of the isomer-specific effect exceeds 3.0+/-2.0 A even at positions remote to proline. Interestingly, the magnitude of the intramolecular isomer-specific C(alpha) atom displacements reveals a lever-arm amplification of the isomerization-mediated structural changes in a protein backbone. The observed backbone effects provide a structural basis for isomer-specific reactions of proline-containing polypeptides, and thus may play a role in biological recognition and regulation.