Thiol-dependent enzymes and their inhibitors: a review

Curr Med Chem. 2002 May;9(9):979-1002. doi: 10.2174/0929867024606704.


Biological thiol-dependent enzymes have recently received extensive attention in the literature because of their involvement in a variety of physiopathological conditions. The active thiol groups of these enzymes are derived from the cysteine residues present. Hence, in a biological system, the selective reversible or irreversible inhibition of the activity of these enzymes by modification of the thiol moiety may potentially lead to the development of a chemotherapeutic treatment. Despite all the research efforts involved in the attempt to develop potential chemotherapeutic treatments for the major diseases involving cysteine proteases, there are in fact no such treatments available yet. However, AG7088 (1) an inhibitor of rhinovirus-3C is in phase II/III clinical trial for the treatment of common cold and VX-740 (2, pralnacasan) an inhibitor of caspase-1 is in phase II clinical trial as an anti-inflammatory agent for rheumatoid arthritis. Several other cysteine protease inhibitors (i.e., cathepsin K, and S) are in pre-clinical evaluation or pre-clinical development. Structure-based drug design approaches have been instrumental in the development of these inhibitors. Intensive biochemical studies on the cysteine proteases have shed some light on some potential targets for therapeutic development. In addition, new techniques and new ideas are constantly emerging. As such, an up-to-date review of the literature on thiol-dependent enzymes as potential targets and their inhibitors designed from peptidic, modified peptidomimetic scaffolds and from small heterocyclic molecules is presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism*


  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases