The anticonvulsant activity of diphenylhydantoin (DPH or phenytoin) is consistent with its actions on the neuronal voltage-dependent sodium channel. To further elucidate the binding requirements for this site, we synthesized several hydantoin analogs and evaluated these in in vitro sodium channel-binding and/or in vivo whole animal anticonvulsant assays. 5-Pentyl-5-phenylhydantoin (8), the most potent binder to the sodium channel in this study, had the same affinity as DPH (IC50 = 40 microM), revealing that one phenyl ring is sufficient for good interactions. Since our previous studies with monophenyl-substituted bicyclic 2,4-oxazolidinediones suggested that N3-alkylation and the conformational constraint of a 5-alkyl substituent over one face of the oxazolidinedione ring improved activity, we synthesized two examples of analogous bicyclic hydantoins. However, the bicyclic hydantoins were much less potent binders to the neuronal voltage-dependent sodium channel than their monocyclic counterparts. The binding activity for the more potent bicyclic hydantoin, 1,8-diaza-9,10-dioxo-7-phenylbicyclo[5.2.1]decane (4) (IC50 = 427 microM), was comparable to that of the ring-opened, N3-methylated monocyclic hydantoin model, 5-butyl-3-methyl-5-phenylhydantoin (9) (IC50 = 285 microM), and these were 8-11 times less potent than the monocyclic model 8, which contains a free imide NH. Furthermore, 5-butyl-5-phenylhydantoin (7; IC50 = 103 microM) was less potent than 8, suggesting that increased log P may enhance binding. Thus, unlike 2,4-oxazolidinediones, N3-alkylation of hydantoins dramatically decreases sodium channel-binding activity. Bicyclic hydantoin 4 was nevertheless a good anti-MES anticonvulsant in mice (ED50 = 86 mg/kg), although this activity likely results from mechanisms other than interactions at the neuronal voltage-dependent sodium channel. Compound 4 was also relatively neurotoxic (TD50 = 124 mg/kg). These results suggest that the binding of hydantoins to the sodium channel may be enhanced by (a) a free imide NH group and (b) an increased log P. Furthermore, 2,4-oxazolidinediones and hydantoins must either orient differently in the same binding site or interact with different sites on the neuronal voltage-dependent sodium channel.