Structural parameterization of the binding enthalpy of small ligands

Irene Luque, Ernesto Freire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A major goal in ligand and drug design is the optimization of the binding affinity of selected lead molecules. However, the binding affinity is defined by the free energy of binding, which, in turn, is determined by the enthalpy and entropy changes. Because the binding enthalpy is the term that predominantly reflects the strength of the interactions of the ligand with its target relative to those with the solvent, it is desirable to develop ways of predicting enthalpy changes from structural considerations. The application of structure/enthalpy correlations derived from protein stability data has yielded inconsistent results when applied to small ligands of pharmaceutical interest (MW < 800). Here we present a first attempt at an empirical parameterization of the binding enthalpy for small ligands in terms of structural information. We find that at least three terms need to be considered: (1) the intrinsic enthalpy change that reflects the nature of the interactions between ligand, target, and solvent; (2) the enthalpy associated with any possible conformational change in the protein or ligand upon binding; and, (3) the enthalpy associated with protonation/ deprotonation events, if present. As in the case of protein stability, the intrinsic binding enthalpy scales with changes in solvent accessible surface areas. However, an accurate estimation of the intrinsic binding enthalpy requires explicit consideration of long-lived water molecules at the binding interface. The best statistical structure/enthalpy correlation is obtained when buried water molecules within 5-7 Å of the ligand are included in the calculations. For all seven protein systems considered (HIV-1 protease, dihydrodipicolinate reductase, Rnase T1, streptavidin, pp60c-Src SH2 domain, Hsp90 molecular chaperone, and bovine β-trypsin) the binding enthalpy of 25 small molecular weight peptide and nonpeptide ligands can be accounted for with a standard error of ±0.3 kcal · mol-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-190
Number of pages10
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 2002


  • Binding energetics
  • Binding thermodynamics
  • HIV-1 protease
  • Isothermal titration calorimetry
  • Structure-based drug design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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