Hirudin is the most potent and specific inhibitor of thrombin, a key enzyme in the coagulation process existing in equilibrium between its procoagulant (fast) and anticoagulant (slow) form. In a previous study, we described the solid-phase synthesis of a Trp3 analogue of fragment 1-47 of hirudin HM2, which displayed ~ 5-fold higher thrombin inhibitory potency relative to that of the natural product [De Filippis, V., et al. (1995) Biochemistry 34, 9552-9564]. By combining automated and manual peptide synthesis, here we have produced in high yields seven analogues of fragment 1-47 containing natural and non-natural amino acids. In particular, we have replaced Val1 with tert-butylglycine (tBug), Ser2 with Arg, and Tyr3 with Phe, cyclohexylalanine (Cha), Trp, α-naphthylalanine (αNal), and β- naphthylalanine (βNal). The crude reduced peptides are able to fold almost quantitatively into the disulfide-cross-linked species, whose unique alignment (Cys6-Cys14, Cys16-Cys28, and Cys22-Cys37) has been shown to be identical to that of the natural fragment. The results of conformational characterization provide evidence that synthetic peptides retain the structural features of the natural species, whereas thrombin inhibition data indicate that the synthetic analogues are all more potent inhibitors of thrombin. In particular, Val → tBug exchange leads to a 3-fold increase in binding, interpreted as arising from a favorable reduction of the entropy of binding, due to the presence of the more symmetric side chain of tBug relative to that of Val. The S2R analogue binds 24- and 125-fold more tightly than the natural fragment to the fast or slow form of thrombin. These results are explained by considering that Arg2 may favorably couple to Glu192, a key residue involved in the slow to fast transition, thus stabilizing the slow form. Replacement of Tyr3 with more hydrophobic residues having different side chain orientations and electronic structures improves binding by 2-40- fold, suggesting that nonpolar interactions and shape-dependent packing effects strongly influence binding at this position. Overall, these results provide new insights for elucidating the mechanism of hirudin-thrombin recognition at the molecular level and highlight new strategies for designing more potent and selective inhibitors of thrombin.