African trypanosomes exert significant morbidity and mortality in man and livestock. Only a few drugs are available for the treatment of trypanosome infections and therefore, the development of new anti-trypanosomal agents is required. Previously it has been shown that bloodstream-form trypanosomes are sensitive to the iron chelator deferoxamine. In this study the effect of 13 iron chelators on the growth of Trypanosoma brucei, T. congolense and human HL-60 cells was tested in vitro. With the exception of 2 compounds, all chelators exhibited anti-trypanosomal activities, with 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) values ranging between 2.1-220 microM. However, the iron chelators also displayed cytotoxicity towards human HL-60 cells and therefore, only less favourable selectivity indices compared to commercially available drugs. Interfering with iron metabolism may be a new strategy in the treatment of trypanosome infections. More specifically, lipophilic iron-chelating agents may serve as lead compounds for novel anti-trypanosomal drug development.