The Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) sequence is a universal cell-recognition site of various extracellular proteins that interact with integrin cell-surface receptors. In order to design low-molecular-mass RGD protein antagonists, the determination of the biologically active conformation is a prerequisite. We present a method that yields detailed insight into the steric factors which govern the binding of the ligands to their receptors by systematically scanning the conformational space accessible for the tripeptide sequence RGD. The investigation is based on the conformationally controlled design of homodetic cyclic oligopeptides and their structural determination, coupled with biological assays. For this purpose, a whole set of cyclic pentapeptides and hexapeptides has been synthesized and their three-dimensional structures in solution analyzed by modern two-dimensional NMR techniques in combination with restrained and free molecular dynamics simulations. Their biological activity was compared with that of linear GRGDS in inhibition assays of tumor cell adhesion to laminin P1 and vitronectin substrates. An up to 100-fold, and in part selective, increase in activity was observed for two cyclic pentapeptides. Most other peptides showed a decreased activity which, however, was useful to correlate activity with rather small variations in conformation. Detailed comparative studies of the systematically designed conformations and the corresponding anti-adhesive activities offer an access to lead structures for a rational indirect drug design of peptide and peptidomimetic pharmaceuticals with strong interfering activity for integrin-mediated cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions.