Certain benzomorphan "sigma-opiates" such as N-allylnormetazocine (NANM) bind at sigma receptors with modest affinity and with little selectivity (i.e., they also bind at phencyclidine or PCP sites). In order to identify the primary pharmacophore of the benzomorphans, we prepared several amine-substituted derivatives of 1-phenyl-2-aminopropane. Several simple alkyl-substituted analogues were shown to bind at sigma sites with affinities comparable to that of NANM itself; among these was the N-benzyl derivative 9 (Ki = 117 nM). Lengthening the spacer between the terminal amine and the phenyl group from one to five methylene units resulted in a significant increase in affinity (e.g. 15, Ki = 6.3 nM). In addition, unlike the benzomorphans, these phenalkylamines do not bind at PCP sites. The results of the present study reveal that (a) the 1-phenyl-2-aminopropane nucleus of the benzomorphans is sufficient for binding at sigma sites provided that the terminal amine is not a primary amine and that (b) introduction of (phenylalkyl)amine substituents affords compounds that represent a new class of high-affinity sigma-selective agents.