The natural product of the Red Sea sponge Verongia sp., identified as 3,5,8-trihydroxy-4-quinolone, was found to be a potent inhibitor of the RNA-directed DNA synthesis of the reverse transcriptases (RTs) of human immunodeficiency viruses type 1 and type 2 (HIV-1 and HIV-2, respectively). This inhibition was unaffected by the nature of the primer template used for DNA synthesis. The DNA-dependent DNA polymerase activity was inhibited to a lesser extent, whereas the ribonuclease H (RNase H) function associated with both HIV RTs was only slightly inhibited. The inhibition by the trihydroxyquinolone is reversible and noncompetitive with respect to both substrates dTTP and the template primer poly(rA)(n)·oligo(dT)12-18. The inhibitor binds HIV-1 RT with a high affinity (K(i) = 0.46 μM). compound was shown also to inhibit the catalytic activities of the RT of murine leukemia virus, establishing the general inhibitory effect on retroviral RTs. Introductions of acetyl or methoxy moieties at positions with potential activity have generated three synthetic analogs of the natural compound. Only one analog, 5,8-dimethoxy-4-quinolone, exhibited an inhibition potency similar to that of the unmodified compound. Analysis of the three analogs has led us to the conclusion that the hydroxyl group at the ortho position to the carbonyl group in the pyridinone ring is a key structural element for the inhibitory activity. Thus, it could well be that the inhibitor interacts with the enzyme through a hydrogen bond of this hydroxyl group. We hope that the identification of the inhibitory site of the compound might be an important step toward the rational design of new potent anti-HIV RT drugs.