The immunosuppressive agents cyclosporin A and FK506 inhibit the transcription of early T cell activation genes. The binding proteins for cyclosporin A and FK506, cyclophilin and FKBP, respectively, are peptidyl-prolyl-cis-trans isomerases, or rotamases. One proposed mechanism for rotamase catalysis by cyclophilin involves a tetrahedral adduct of an amide carbonyl and an enzyme-bound nucleophile. The potent FKBP rotamase inhibitor FK506 has a highly electrophilic carbonyl that is adjacent to an acyl-pipicolinyl (homoprolyl) amide bond. Such a functional group would be expected to form a stabilized, enzyme-bound tetrahedral adduct. Spectroscopic and chemical evidence reveals that the drug interacts noncovalently with its receptor, suggesting that the alpha-keto amid of FK506 serves as a surrogate for the twisted amide of a bound peptide substrate.