An unusual compound, cyclic-bis(3'----5') diguanylic acid (c-di-GMP or cGpGp), is involved in the regulation of cellulose synthesis in the bacterium Acetobacter xylinum. This cyclic dinucleotide acts as an allosteric, positive effector of cellulose synthase activity in vitro (Ka = 0.31 microM) and is inactivated via degradation by a Ca2(+)-sensitive phosphodiesterase, PDE-A (Km = 0.25 microM). A series of 13 analogs cyclic dimer and trimer nucleotides were synthesized, employing a phosphotriester approach, and tested for the ability to mimick c-di-GMP as activators of cellulose synthase and as substrates for PDE-A. Seven of the synthetic compounds stimulate cellulose synthase activity and all of these activators undergo the Ca2(+)-inhibited degradation reaction. The order of affinities for synthase activators is cGpGp approximately cdGpGp approximately cGp(S)Gp (S-diastereomer) greater than cIpGp greater than cdGpdGp greater than cXpGp greater than cIpIp greater than cGp(S)Gp (R-diastereomer). Three cyclic dinucleotides of negligible affinity for either enzyme are cApAp, cUpUp, and cCpCp. This same order of affinities essentially pertains to the analogs as inhibitors of PDE-A activity, but at least one cyclic dinucleotide, cXpXp, which does not bind to cellulose synthase, is also a substrate for the degradation reaction, demonstrating that although the two enzymes share a similar, high degree of specificity for c-di-GMP, their cyclic dinucleotide binding sites are not identical. Phosphodiester bonds of activators in which an exocyclic oxygen is replaced with an atom of sulfur (cGp(S)Gp isomers) resist the action of PDE-A, and such derivatives may be prototypes for synthetic non-hydrolyzable c-di-GMP analogs.