Despite the availability of large amounts of data for HIV-protease inhibitors and their effectiveness with wild type and resistant enzyme, there is limited knowledge about how this and other information can be systematically applied to the development of new antiviral compounds. To identify in vitro parameters that correlate with the efficacy of HIV inhibitors in cell culture, the relationships between inhibition, interaction kinetic, and cell culture parameters for HIV-1 protease inhibitors were analyzed. Correlation, cluster, and principal component analysis of data for 37 cyclic and linear compounds revealed that the affinities (K(D)) determined from SPR-biosensor binding studies correlated better to cell culture efficacy (ED(50)) than that of the inhibition constants (K(i)), indicating that the conventional use of K(i) values for structure-activity relationship analysis of HIV-1 inhibitors should be seriously reconsidered. The association and dissociation kinetic rate constants (k(on) and k(off)) alone showed weak correlations with ED(50) values. However, ED(50) values were most related to the free enzyme concentration in the viral particle ([E]), calculated from the rate constants and the total enzyme concentration in a viral particle. A structure-activity relationship analysis of the current data set was found to be valid for all classes of compounds analyzed. In summary, use of affinity, based on interaction kinetic rate constants, rather than inhibition constants, and theoretical consideration of the physiological conditions in the virus particle provide improved structure-activity relationship analysis of HIV-1 protease inhibitors.