A series of phenyl ring-substituted analogues of 3alpha-(diphenylmethoxy)tropane (benztropine) has been prepared as novel probes for the dopamine transporter. Cross-validated comparative molecular field analysis (CoMFA) models of the binding domain on the dopamine transporter were constructed using 37 geometry-optimized structures of these compounds and their corresponding binding affinities (K(i) values) for the displacement of [(3)H]WIN 35,428 or potency of [(3)H]dopamine uptake inhibition (IC(50) values) in rat caudate putamen tissue. The most predictive model (q(2) = 0.78) correlated the steric component of CoMFA to the dependent variable of [(3)H]WIN 35,428 binding affinities. A novel series of seven phenyl ring-substituted analogues of 3alpha-(diphenylmethoxy)tropane was prepared, and our best molecular model was used to accurately predict their binding affinities. This study is the first to provide a CoMFA model for this class of dopamine uptake inhibitors. This model represents an advancement in the design of novel dopamine transporter ligands, based on 3alpha-(diphenylmethoxy)tropane, and further substantiates structure-activity relationships that have previously been proposed for this class of compounds. This CoMFA model can now be used to predict the binding affinities of novel 3alpha-(diphenylmethoxy)tropane analogues at the dopamine transporter and will be useful in the design of molecular probes within this class of dopamine uptake inhibitors.