A series of carboxy-alkylamidated and N-acetylated amino acids and peptides were synthesized and examined for their ability to inhibit human leukocyte elastase. The Boc-amino acid alkylamides were found to be potent specific and competitive inhibitors of this enzyme. They were found not to or only poorly inhibit several other serine proteinases such as bovine trypsin, alpha-chymotrypsin, porcine pancreatic elastase and human leukocyte cathepsin G at concentrations less than 10(-4) M. Specificity and maximum inhibition of human leukocyte elastase were achieved when the N-terminus of the amino acid was protected by a t-butyloxy-carbonyl (Boc) group, the oligopeptide fragment consisted of valine residues and when the alkyl chain was between 10 and 12 carbon atoms in length and attached to the C-terminus of the peptide fragment. Highest inhibition was obtained with the compound Boc-[Val]3-NH[CH2]11--CH3 (Ki = 0.21 microM). These specific inhibitors were also found to be non-toxic after oral administration to mice and rats (LD50 greater than 3.0 g/kg body weight).