To discover a novel and low molecular weight substance P (SP) antagonist we postulated that the essential binding domain of peptide ligands was only a small portion in the whole structure. On the basis of this assumption, we selected the known octapeptide SP antagonist D-Pro-Gln-Gln-D-Trp-Phe-D-Trp-D-Trp-Phe-NH2 (1) as a lead and synthesized its fragment tripeptides which were evaluated for their activity to block 3H-SP binding on guinea pig lung membranes. The protected tripeptide N alpha-[N alpha-[N alpha-(tert-butyloxycarbonyl)-L-glutaminyl]-N1-formyl-D-tryptophyl]- L-phenylalanine benzyl ester [Boc-Gln-D-Trp(CHO)-Phe-OBzl (4a)], corresponding to the Gln-D-Trp-Phe part of 1, exhibited 7-fold potent inhibitory activity in comparison with 1. Studies on structure-activity relationships revealed that the D-tryptophan, L-phenylalanine, and benzyl ester were quite important to maintain the high binding affinity. It was also indicated that 4a antagonized the SP-induced contraction of isolated guinea pig trachea strips (IC50 = 4.7 x 10(-6) M).