We describe the biological properties of a new class of potent farnesyltransferase (FT) inhibitors designed as bisubstrate analog inhibitors. These inhibitors incorporate the structural motifs of both farnesyl pyrophosphate and the CAAX tetrapeptide, the two substrates of the reaction catalyzed by FT. Both the phosphinate inhibitor, BMS-185878, and the phosphonate inhibitor, BMS-184467, exhibited higher in vitro FT selectivity than some of the previously reported CVFM peptidomimentics and benzodiazepine analogs. Xenopus oocyte maturation induced by microinjected oncogenic Ras proteins was blocked by coinjected BMS-184467 and BMS-185878. However, both inhibitors showed poor cell activity presumably because of the doubly charged nature of the compounds. Thus, masking the charge on the carboxylate ion markedly improved the cell permeability of BMS-185878, leading to BMS-186511, the methyl carboxyl ester prodrug. BMS-186511 inhibited FT activity in whole cells as determined by inhibition of p21 Ras protein processing, inhibition of farnesylation of proteins including Ras and the accumulation of unfarnesylated Ras proteins in the cytosolic fraction. While the cellular effects of these bisubstrate analog inhibitors had no significant effect on growth of untransformed NIH3T3 cells, they produced pronounced inhibition of Ras transformed cell growth. Both the anchorage dependent and independent growth of ras transformed cells were severely curtailed by micromolar concentrations of BMS-186511. We also found that both H-ras and K-ras transformed cells are affected by this bisubstrate inhibitor. However, K-ras transformed cells appear to be less sensitive. The inhibition of FT activity in cells and the ensuing inhibition of ras transformed cell growth is further manifested in distinct morphological changes in cells. Cells flattened, became less refractile and grew in contact inhibited monolayer. Moreover, the highly diffused character of the actin cytoskeleton in the ras transformed cells was dramatically reverted to an organized network of stress cables crisscrossing the entire cells upon treatment with BMS-186511. All of these effects of BMS-186511 are limited to ras transformed cells that utilize farnesylated Ras, but are not seen in transformed cells that use geranylgeranyl Ras or myristoyl Ras. Significantly, these FT inhibitors did not produce any signs of gross cytotoxicity in untransformed, ras transformed cells or other oncogene transformed cells.