NBD-556 and the chemically and structurally similar NBD-557 are two low-molecular weight compounds that reportedly block the interaction between the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein gp120 and its receptor, CD4. NBD-556 binds to gp120 with a binding affinity of 2.7 x 10(5) M(-1) (K(d) = 3.7 muM) in a process characterized by a large favorable change in enthalpy partially compensated by a large unfavorable entropy change, a thermodynamic signature similar to that observed for binding of sCD4 to gp120. NBD-556 binding is associated with a large structuring of the gp120 molecule, as also demonstrated by CD spectroscopy. NBD-556, like CD4, activates the binding of gp120 to the HIV-1 coreceptor, CCR5, and to the 17b monoclonal antibody, which recognizes the coreceptor binding site of gp120. NBD-556 stimulates HIV-1 infection of CD4-negative, CCR5-expressing cells. The thermodynamic signature of the binding of NBD-556 to gp120 is very different from that of another viral entry inhibitor, BMS-378806. Whereas NBD-556 binds gp120 with a large favorable enthalpy and compensating unfavorable entropy changes, BMS-378806 does so with a small binding enthalpy change in a mostly entropy-driven process. NBD-556 is a competitive inhibitor of sCD4 and elicits a similar structuring of the coreceptor binding site, whereas BMS-378806 does not compete with sCD4 and does not induce coreceptor binding. These studies demonstrate that low-molecular-weight compounds can induce conformational changes in the HIV-1 gp120 glycoprotein similar to those observed upon CD4 binding, revealing distinct strategies for inhibiting the function of the HIV-1 gp120 envelope glycoprotein. Furthermore, competitive and noncompetitive compounds have characteristic thermodynamic signatures that can be used to guide the design of more potent and effective viral entry inhibitors.