A number of N-benzoyl amino acids were synthesized and tested to compare structure-inhibition relationships with the isosteric N-(phenylsulfonyl) amino acid (PS-amino acid) aldose reductase inhibitors. Inhibition analyses with these series reveals that their kinetic mechanisms of inhibition are similar, but that significant differences in structure-inhibition relationships exist. For example, while the PS-alanines and PS-2-phenylglycines produce enantioselective inhibition (S greater than R), no consistent pattern of enantioselectivity is observed with the isosteric N-benzoylalanines and 2-phenylglycines. Also, N-methyl and N-phenyl substitution in the PS-amino acid series does not substantially alter inhibitory activity, while similar substitutions in the N-benzoyl series (particularly N-phenyl) results in a significant increase in inhibitory activity. Proton NMR analysis of the N-benzoylsarcosines reveals that these compounds exist as a mixture of rotamers in solutions including the enzyme assay buffer and that the preferred conformer is one in which the carboxymethyl moiety is trans to the aromatic ring. Similar analyses with the N-benzoyl-N-phenylglycines demonstrate that these derivatives exist exclusively in the trans rotameric conformation in solution. No such N-substituent effects on conformation were observed in the PS-amino acid series. These results suggest that the differences in structure-inhibition trends between these structurally related series may result from the effect of substituents on preferred conformation.