The design, synthesis, and biological evaluation of a new class of HIV-1 protease inhibitors containing stereochemically defined fused tricyclic polyethers as the P2 ligands and a variety of sulfonamide derivatives as the P2' ligands are described. A number of ring sizes and various substituent effects were investigated to enhance the ligand-backbone interactions in the protease active site. Inhibitors 5c and 5d containing this unprecedented fused 6-5-5 ring system as the P2 ligand, an aminobenzothiazole as the P2' ligand, and a difluorophenylmethyl as the P1 ligand exhibited exceptional enzyme inhibitory potency and maintained excellent antiviral activity against a panel of highly multidrug-resistant HIV-1 variants. The umbrella-like P2 ligand for these inhibitors has been synthesized efficiently in an optically active form using a Pauson-Khand cyclization reaction as the key step. The racemic alcohols were resolved efficiently using a lipase catalyzed enzymatic resolution. Two high resolution X-ray structures of inhibitor-bound HIV-1 protease revealed extensive interactions with the backbone atoms of HIV-1 protease and provided molecular insight into the binding properties of these new inhibitors.