The natural substrate for the first alpha-D-mannosyltransferase of glycosylphosphatidylinositol biosynthesis in the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei is D-GlcN alpha 1-6-L-myo-inositol-1-P-sn-1,2-diacylglycerol, Here we show that a diastereoisomer, D-GlcN alpha 1-6-L-myo-inositol-1-P-sn-1,2-diacylglycerol, is an inhibitor of this enzyme in a trypanosomal cell-free system. Tests with other L-myo-inositol-containing compounds revealed that L-myo-inositol-l-phosphate is the principal inhibitory component and that methylation of the 2-OH group of the L-myo-inositol residue abolishes any inhibition. Comparisons between the natural substrate and the inhibitors suggested that the inhibitors bind to the first alpha-D-mannosyltransferase by means of charge interactions with the l-phosphate group and/or hydrogen bonds involving the 3-, 4-, and 5-OH groups of the L-myo-inositol residue, which are predicted to occupy orientations identical to those of the I-phosphate and 5-, 4-, and 3-OH groups, respectively, of the D-myoinositol residue of the natural substrate. However, additional experiments indicated that the 4-OH group of the D-myo-inositol residue is unlikely to be involved in substrate recognition. None of the L-myo-inositol-containing compounds that inhibited glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) biosynthesis in a parasite cell-free system had any effect on GPI biosynthesis in a comparable human (HeLa) cell-free system, suggesting that other related parasite-specific inhibitors of this essential pathway might be developed.