Discovering potent and selective reversible inhibitors of enzymes in complex proteomes

Nat Biotechnol. 2003 Jun;21(6):687-91. doi: 10.1038/nbt826. Epub 2003 May 12.


To realize the promise of genomics-based therapeutics, new methods are needed to accelerate the discovery of small molecules that selectively modulate protein activity. Toward this end, advances in combinatorial synthesis have provided unprecedented access to large compound libraries of considerable structural complexity and diversity, shifting the bottleneck in drug discovery to the development of efficient screens for protein targets. Screening for reversible enzyme inhibitors typically requires extensive target-specific work, including protein expression and purification, as well as the development of specific substrate assays. Here we report a proteomic method for the discovery of reversible enzyme inhibitors that avoids these steps. We show that competitive profiling of a library of candidate serine hydrolase inhibitors in complex proteomes with activity-based chemical probes identifies nanomolar reversible inhibitors of several enzymes simultaneously, including the endocannabinoid-degrading enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), triacylglycerol hydrolase (TGH) and an uncharacterized membrane-associated hydrolase that lacks known substrates. The strategy tests inhibitors against numerous enzymes in parallel, assigning both potency and selectivity factors to each agent. In this way, promiscuous inhibitors were readily rejected in favor of equally potent compounds with 500-fold or greater selectivity for their targets.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amidohydrolases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Amidohydrolases / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Binding, Competitive
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / analysis*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / isolation & purification
  • Hydrolases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Hydrolases / chemistry
  • Lipase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Lipase / chemistry
  • Mice
  • Peptide Library*
  • Protein Array Analysis / methods*
  • Proteome*
  • Proteomics / methods*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Peptide Library
  • Proteome
  • Hydrolases
  • Lipase
  • Amidohydrolases
  • fatty-acid amide hydrolase