The heat shock protein Hsp90 is a potential target for drug discovery of novel anticancer agents. By affecting this protein, several cell signaling pathways may be simultaneously modulated. The geldanamycin analog 17AAG has been shown to inhibit Hsp90 and associated proteins. Its clinical use, however, is hampered by poor solubility and thus, difficulties in formulation. Therefore, a water-soluble derivative was desirable and 17-dimethylaminoethylamino-17-demethoxy-geldanamycin (17DMAG) is such a derivative. Studies were carried out in order to evaluate the activity and molecular mechanism(s) of 17DMAG in comparison with those of 17-allylamino-demethoxygeldanamycin (17AAG). 17DMAG was found to be more potent than 17AAG in a panel of 64 different patient-derived tumor explants studied in vitro in the clonogenic assay. The tumor types that responded best included mammary cancers (six of eight), head and neck cancers (two of two), sarcomas (four of four), pancreas carcinoma (two of three), colon tumors (four of eight for 17AAG and six of eight for 17DMAG), and melanoma (two of seven). Bioinformatic comparisons suggested that, while 17AAG and 17DMAG are likely to share the same mode(s) of action, there was very little similarity with standard anticancer agents. Using three permanent human melanoma cell lines with differing sensitivities to 17AAG and 17DMAG (MEXF 276L, MEXF 462NL and MEXF 514L), we found that Hsp90 protein was reduced following treatment at a concentration associated with total growth inhibition. The latter occurred in MEXF 276L cells only, which are most sensitive to both compounds. The depletion of Hsp90 was more pronounced in cells exposed to 17DMAG than in those treated with 17AAG. The reduction in Hsp90 was associated with the expression of erbB2 and erbB3 in MEXF 276L, while erbB2 and erbB3 were absent in the more resistant MEXF 462NL and MEXF 514L cells. Levels of known Hsp90 client proteins such as phosphorylated AKT followed by AKT, cyclin D1 preceding cdk4, and craf-1 declined as a result of drug treatment in all three melanoma cell lines. However, the duration of drug exposure needed to achieve these effects was variable. All cell lines showed increased expression of Hsp70 and activated cleavage of PARP. No change in PI3K expression was observed and all melanoma cells were found to harbor the activating V599E BRAF kinase mutation. The results of our in vitro studies are consistent with both 17AAG and 17DMAG acting via the same molecular mechanism, i.e. by modulating Hsp90 function. Since 17DMAG can be formulated in physiological aqueous solutions, the data reported here strongly support the development of 17DMAG as a more pharmaceutically practicable congener of 17AAG.