N-(Carboxyalkyl)maleimides are rapid as well as time-dependent inhibitors of prostaglandin endoperoxide synthase (PGHS). The corresponding N-alkylmaleimides were only time-dependent inactivators of PGHS, suggesting that the carboxylate is critical for rapid inhibition. Several N-substituted maleimide analogs containing structural features similar to those of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug aspirin were synthesized and evaluated as inhibitors of PGHS. Most of the aspirin-like maleimides inactivated the cyclooxygenase activity of purified ovine PGHS-1 in a time- and concentration-dependent manner similar to that of aspirin. The peroxidase activity of PGHS was also inactivated by the maleimide analogs. The cyclooxygenase activity of the inducible isozyme, i.e., PGHS-2, was also inhibited by these compounds. The corresponding succinimide analog of N-5-maleimido-2-acetoxy-1-benzoic acid did not inhibit either enzyme activity, suggesting that inactivation was due to covalent modification of the protein. The mechanism of inhibition of PGHS-1 by N-(carboxyheptyl)maleimide was investigated. Incubation of apoPGHS-1 with 2 equiv of N-(carboxyheptyl)[3,4-14C]maleimide led to the incorporation of radioactivity in the protein, but no adduct was detected by reversed-phase HPLC, suggesting that it was unstable to the chromatographic conditions. Furthermore, hematin-reconstituted PGHS-1, which was rapidly inhibited by N-(carboxyheptyl)maleimide, displayed spontaneous regeneration of about 50% of the cyclooxygenase and peroxidase activities, suggesting that the adduct responsible for the inhibition breaks down to regenerate active enzyme. ApoPGHS-1, inhibited by N-(carboxyheptyl)maleimide, did not display regeneration of enzyme activity, but addition of hematin to the inhibited apoenzyme led to spontaneous recovery of about 50% of cyclooxygenase activity. These results suggest that addition of heme leads to a conformational change in the protein which increases the susceptibility of the adduct toward hydrolytic cleavage. ApoPGHS-1, pretreated with N-(carboxyheptyl)maleimide, was resistant to trypsin cleavage, suggesting that the carboxylate functionality of the maleimide binds in the cyclooxygenase channel. A model for the interaction of N-(carboxyheptyl)maleimide in the cyclooxygenase active site is proposed.