Derivatives of amino acids bearing various zinc-coordinating moieties (SH, COOH, CONHOH, and PO3H2) were synthesized and tested for their ability to inhibit aminopeptidase N (APN). Among them, beta-amino thiols were found to be the most efficient with IC50's in the 11-50 nM range. These results suggest that the S1 subsite of APN is a deep but not very large hydrophobic pocket, optimally fitting side chains of moderate bulk endowed with some degree of freedom. The iv administration of the inhibitors, alone, did not induce antinociceptive responses on the hot plate test in mice. However, in presence of 10 mg/kg acetorphan, a prodrug of the neutral endopeptidase inhibitor thiorphan, these compounds gave a large increase in the jump latency time with ED50's of 2 and 2.4 mg/kg for the disulfides of methioninethiol H2NCH(CH2CH2SCH3)CH2S]2 and S-oxomethioninethiol [H2NCH(CH2CH2S(O)CH3)CH2S]2, respectively. These results show that the disulfide forms of beta-amino thiols are efficient prodrugs of aminopeptidase N inhibitors capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier.