Pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (PLP)-dependent ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) is the key enzyme in polyamine synthesis. ODC is overexpressed in many tumor cells and thus a potential drug target. Here we show the design and synthesis of a coenzyme-substrate analogue as a novel precursor inhibitor of ODC. Structural analysis of the crystal structure of human ODC disclosed an additional hydrophobic pocket surrounding the epsilon-amino group of its substrate ornithine. Molecular modeling methods showed favorable interactions of the BOC-protected pyridoxyl-ornithine conjugate, termed POB, in the active site of human ODC. The synthesized and purified POB completely inhibited the activity of newly induced ODC activity at 100 micromol/L in glioma LN229 and COS7 cells. In correlation with the inhibition of ODC activity, a time-dependent inhibition of cell growth was observed in myeloma, glioma LN18 and LN229, Jurkat, COS7, and SW2 small-cell lung cancer cells if DNA synthesis and cell number were measured, but not in the nontumorigenic human aortic smooth muscle cells. POB strongly inhibited cell proliferation not only of low-grade glioma LN229 cells in a dose-dependent manner (IC(50) approximately 50 micromol/L) but also of high-grade glioblastoma multiforme cells. POB is much more efficient in inhibiting proliferation of several types of tumor cells than alpha-DL-difluoromethylornithine, the best known irreversible inhibitor of ODC.