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Information is available on the structure–activity relationships for dopamine as a substrate for uptake by the dopamine transporter. However, dopamine transport is a complex process involving substrate binding, translocation, release as well as transporter reorientation. The present study examines only the substrate recognition step by assessment of the potency of various dopamine-related compounds in inhibiting the binding of the cocaine analog [3H]2β-carbomethoxy-3β-(4-fluorophenyl)tropane ([3H]WIN 35,428) to human dopamine transporters expressed in HEK-293 cells. α-Methylation of the side chain, the presence of the amine, and the 2-carbon-length of the side chain were found to be important for binding affinity, whereas β-hydroxylation of the side chain and methoxylation at the phenyl ring generated weaker compounds. In addition, the presence of both m- and p-OH at the phenyl ring bestowed an increase in potency but the presence of p-OH alone a decrease. N-alkylation (propylation or methylation) had little or an even slightly beneficial effect on affinity, whereas α-carbonylation and α-methanoylation reduced affinity. Amino naphthalene compounds with a fused benzenoid ring system retained some potency consonant with the extended (i.e. β-rotameric) trans (=anti) form of the side chain in dopamine when interacting with the transporter. In a second series of experiments, the interaction between dopamine and structural variants was assessed by monitoring the capability of a compound to shift the dopamine inhibition curve to the right as expected for a competitive inhibitor acting at the same site. Appreciable deviation from competitive interaction was observed by removal of the amine from the side chain, by α-carbonylation, and by α-methanoylation. Two blocker-type compounds, semi-rigid variants of cocaine, also displayed significant deviation. A substrate-based compound, inhibiting cocaine analog binding without interfering with dopamine recognition, could be a cocaine antagonist allowing conformational changes to occur during dopamine uptake.