A series of phenolic acid esters incorporating caffeic, ferulic, and p-coumaric acid, and benzyl, m/p-hydroxyphenethyl-as well as p-hydroxy-phenethoxy-phenethyl moieties were investigated for their inhibitory effects against the metalloenzyme carbonic anhydrase (CA, EC 18.104.22.168). Many of the mammalian isozymes of human (h) or murine (m) origin, hCA I-hCA XII, mCA XIII and hCA XIV, were inhibited in the submicromolar range by these derivatives (with K(I)s of 0.31-1.03 mu M against hCA VA, VB, VI, VII, IX and XIV). The off-target, highly abundant isoforms hCA I and II, as well as hCA III, IV and XII were poorly inhibited by many of these esters, although the original phenolic acids were micromolar inhibitors. These phenols, like others investigated earlier, possess a CA inhibition mechanism distinct of the sulfonamides/sulfamates, clinically used drugs for the treatment of a multitude of pathologies, but with severe side effects due to hCA I/II inhibition. Unlike the sulfonamides, which bind to the catalytic zinc ion, phenols are anchored at the Zn(II)-coordinated water molecule, binding more externally within the active site cavity, and making contacts with amino acid residues at the entrance of the active site. As this is the region with the highest variability between the many CA isozymes found in mammals, this class of compounds shows isoform-selective inhibitory profiles, which may be exploited for obtaining pharmacological agents with less side effects compared to other classes of inhibitors. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.