[structure: see text] Four deoxyxylulose phosphate (DXP) analogues were synthesized and evaluated as substrates/inhibitors for methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) synthase. In analogues CF(3)-DXP (1), CF(2)-DXP (2), and CF-DXP (3), the three methyl hydrogens at C1 of DXP were sequentially replaced by fluorine. In the fourth analogue, Et-DXP (4), the methyl group in DXP was replaced by an ethyl moiety. Analogues 1, 2, and 4 were not substrates for MEP synthase under normal catalytic conditions and were instead modest inhibitors with IC(50) values of 2.0, 3.4, and 6.2 mM, respectively. In contrast, 3 was a good substrate (k(cat) = 38 s(-)(1), K(m) = 227 muM) with a turnover rate similar to that of the natural substrate. These results are consistent with a retro-aldol/aldol mechanism rather than an alpha-ketol rearrangement for the enzyme-catalyzed conversion of DXP to MEP.