Spectroscopic methods are used to probe the interactions of several anilinoacridine analogues with calf thymus DNA over a wide range of temperatures and sodium chloride concentrations. The structurally similar compounds m-AMSA, AMSA (both active as antitumor agents), and o-AMSA (inactive as an antitumor agent) have been widely studied in their abilities to bind DNA in an intercalative manner. Recent studies from this laboratory reveal distinct differences in the thermodynamic binding mechanisms between m-AMSA and o-AMSA (Wadkins & Graves, 1989), with the m-AMSA-DNA interaction being an enthalpy-driven process while the binding of o-AMSA to DNA is characterized by more positive entropy values. To further examine the physical chemical properties associated with these compounds and their correlation with antitumor activities, an in-depth investigation into the thermodynamic parameters of these compounds and structurally related anilinoacridine analogues was performed. These studies demonstrate that substituent type and position on the aniline ring of the anilinoacridines greatly influences both the affinities of these drugs in binding to DNA and dictates whether the DNA binding is an enthalpy- or entropy-driven process. The differences in thermodynamic mechanisms of binding between the two isomers along with molecular modeling studies reveal the electronic and/or steric factors resulting from the positioning of the methoxy substituent group on the anilino ring directs the DNA-binding properties through orientation of the methanesulfonamido group at the 1′ position of the aniline ring. The orientation of this substituent group may result in favorable contacts through hydrogen bonding with neighboring base pairs and ultimately influence the biological effectiveness as an antitumor agent. © 1991, American Chemical Society. All rights reserved.