Several steroid analogues containing conjugated acetylenic ketone groups as part of a seco-ring structure or as substituents on the intact steroid system are irreversible inhibitors of delta 5-3-oxo steroid isomerase (EC 22.214.171.124) from Pseudomonas testosteroni. Thus 10 beta-(1-oxoprop-2-ynyl)oestr-4-ene-3,17-dione (I), 5,10-seco-oestr-4-yne-3,10,17-trione (II), 17 beta-hydroxy-5,10-seco-oestr-4-yne-3,10-dione (III) and 17 beta-(1-oxoprop-2-ynyl)androst-4-en-3-one (IV) irreversibly inactivate isomerase in a time-dependent manner. In all cases saturation kinetics are observed. Protection against inactivation is afforded by the powerful competitive inhibitor 19-nortestosterone. The inhibition constants (Ki) for 19-nortestosterone obtained from such experiments are in good agreement with those determined from conventional competitive-inhibition studies of enzyme activity. These compounds thus appear to be active-site directed. In every case the inactivated enzyme could be dialysed without return of activity, indicating that a stable covalent bond probably had formed between the steroid and enzyme. Compound (I) is a very potent inhibitor of isomerase [Ki = 66.0 microM and k+2 = 12.5 x 10(-3) s-1 (where Ki is the dissociation constant of the reversible enzyme-inhibitor complex and k+2 is the rate constant for the inactivation reaction of the enzyme-inhibitor complex)] giving half-lives of inactivation of 30-45 s at saturation. It is argued that the basic-amino-acid residue that abstracts the intramolecularly transferred 4 beta-proton in the reaction mechanism could form a Michael-addition product with compound (I). In contrast, although compound (IV) has a lower inhibition constant (Ki = 14.5 microM), it is a relatively poor alkylating agent (k+2 = 0.13 x 10(-3) s-1). If the conjugated acetylenic ketone groups are replaced by alpha-hydroxyacetylene groups, the resultant analogues of steroids (I)-(IV) are reversible competitive inhibitors with Ki values in the range 27-350 microM. The enzyme binds steroids in the C19 series with functionalized acetylenic substituents at C-17 in preference to steroids in the C18 series bearing similar groups in the ring structure or as C-10 substituents. In the 5,10-seco-steroid series the presence of hydroxy groups at both C-3 and C-17 is deleterious to binding by the enzyme.