The AIDS pandemic has stimulated the search for safe potent antiviral agents. To date, only AZT has been approved as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of HIV infection. It is likely that a large number of antiviral compounds would be necessary to control a life-long infection. We have utilized the rigid structure of the cyclodextrin molecule to determine the minimal components necessary for anti-HIV activity. Utilizing this targeted approach to drug design, we demonstrate the antiviral effects of candidate compounds from the family of cyclodextrins. We report that polysulfated cyclodextrins mediate significant anti-HIV effects which include blocking infectivity and syncytia formation mediated by the HIV viruses. Several other substituted forms of cyclodextrins did not mediate significant antiviral effects. Further results demonstrate that the polysulfated cyclodextrins mediated no specific antiviral effects against already infected human cells. These results demonstrate that the antiviral activities of this class of compounds are centered around early events in the viral life cycle. These in vitro results suggest that such molecules may be of importance in antiretroviral therapeutic regimes.