Kinesin motor proteins use ATP hydrolysis for transport along microtubules in the cell. We sought to identify small organic ligands to inhibit kinesin's activity. Candidate molecules were identified by computational docking of commercially available compounds using the computer program DOCK. Compounds were docked at either of two sites, and a selection was tested for inhibition of microtubule-stimulated ATPase activity. Twenty-two submillimolar inhibitors were identified. Several inhibitors appeared to be competitive for microtubule binding and not for ATP binding, and three compounds showed 50% inhibition down to single-digit micromolar levels. Most inhibitors grouped into four distinct classes (fluoresceins, phenolphthaleins, anthraquinones, and naphthylene sulfonates). We measured the binding of one inhibitor, rose bengal lactone (RBL), to kinesin (dissociation constant 2.5 microM) by its increase in steady-state fluorescence anisotropy. The RBL binding site on kinesin was localized by fluorescent resonance energy transfer (FRET) using a donor fluorophore (coumarin) covalently attached at unique, surface-exposed cysteine residues engineered at positions 28, 149, 103, 220, or 330. RBL was found to bind in its original docked site: the pocket cradled by loop 8 and beta-strand 5 in kinesin's three-dimensional structure. These results confirm this region's role in microtubule binding and identify this pocket as a novel binding site for kinesin inhibition.