Structural analysis of protein-ligand interactions: The binding of endogenous compounds and of synthetic drugs

Anna M. Gallina, Peer Bork, Domenico Bordo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The large number of macromolecular structures deposited with the Protein Data Bank (PDB) describing complexes between proteins and either physiological compounds or synthetic drugs made it possible a systematic analysis of the interactions occurring between proteins and their ligands. In this work, the binding pockets of about 4000 PDB protein-ligand complexes were investigated and amino acid and interaction types were analyzed. The residues observed with lowest frequency in protein sequences, Trp, His, Met, Tyr, and Phe, turned out to be the most abundant in binding pockets. Significant differences between drug-like and physiological compounds were found. On average, physiological compounds establish with respect to drugs about twice as many hydrogen bonds with protein atoms, whereas drugs rely more on hydrophobic interactions to establish target selectivity. The large number of PDB structures describing homologous proteins in complex with the same ligand made it possible to analyze the conservation of binding pocket residues among homologous protein structures bound to the same ligand, showing that Gly, Glu, Arg, Asp, His, and Thr are more conserved than other amino acids. Also in the cases in which the same ligand is bound to unrelated proteins, the binding pockets showed significant conservation in the residue types. In this case, the probability of co-occurrence of the same amino acid type in the binding pockets could be up to thirteen times higher than that expected on a random basis. The trends identified in this study may provide an useful guideline in the process of drug design and lead optimization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-72
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of molecular recognition : JMR
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • drug discovery
  • lead optimization
  • protein-ligand interaction
  • secondary target

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Structural Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Structural analysis of protein-ligand interactions: The binding of endogenous compounds and of synthetic drugs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this