Chemotherapy in the last century was characterized by cytotoxic drugs that did not discriminate between cancerous and normal cell types and were consequently accompanied by toxic side effects that were often dose limiting. The ability of differentiating agents to selectively kill cancer cells or transform them to a nonproliferating or normal phenotype could lead to cell- and tissue-specific drugs without the side effects of current cancer chemotherapeutics. This may be possible for a new generation of histone deacetylase inhibitors derived from amino acids. Structure-activity relationships are now reported for 43 compounds derived from 2-aminosuberic acid that kill a range of cancer cells, 26 being potent cytotoxins against MM96L melanoma cells (IC50 20 nM-1 microM), while 17 were between 5- and 60-fold more selective in killing MM96L melanoma cells versus normal (neonatal foreskin fibroblasts, NFF) cells. This represents a 10- to 100-fold increase in potency and up to a 10-fold higher selectivity over previously reported compounds derived from cysteine (J. Med. Chem. 2004, 47, 2984). Selectivity is also an underestimate, because the normal cells, NFF, are rarely all killed by the drugs that also induce selective blockade of the cell cycle for normal but not cancer cells. Selected compounds were tested against a panel of human cancer cell lines (melanomas, prostate, breast, ovarian, cervical, lung, and colon) and found to be both selective and potent cytotoxins (IC50 20 nM-1 microM). Compounds in this class typically inhibit human histone deacetylases, as evidenced by hyperacetylation of histones in both normal and cancer cells, induce expression of p21, and differentiate surviving cancer cells to a nonproliferating phenotype. These compounds may be valuable leads for the development of new chemotherapeutic agents.