A specific mechanism of nonspecific inhibition

J Med Chem. 2003 Sep 25;46(20):4265-72. doi: 10.1021/jm030266r.


Promiscuous small molecules plague screening libraries and hit lists. Previous work has found that several nonspecific compounds form submicrometer aggregates, and it has been suggested that this aggregate species is responsible for the inhibition of many different enzymes. It is not understood how aggregates inhibit their targets. To address this question, biophysical, kinetic, and microscopy methods were used to study the interaction of promiscuous, aggregate-forming inhibitors with model proteins. By use of centrifugation and gel electrophoresis, aggregates and protein were found to directly interact. This is consistent with a subsequent observation from confocal fluorescence microscopy that aggregates concentrate green fluorescent protein. beta-Lactamase mutants with increased or decreased thermodynamic stability relative to wild-type enzyme were equally inhibited by an aggregate-forming compound, suggesting that denaturation by unfolding was not the primary mechanism of interaction. Instead, visualization by electron microscopy revealed that enzyme associates with the surface of inhibitor aggregates. This association could be reversed or prevented by the addition of Triton X-100. These observations suggest that the aggregates formed by promiscuous compounds reversibly sequester enzyme, resulting in apparent inhibition. They also suggest a simple method to identify or reverse the action of aggregate-based inhibitors, which appear to be widespread.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Centrifugation
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Fluorescence
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / chemistry
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / pharmacology
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Light
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Octoxynol / chemistry
  • Octoxynol / pharmacology
  • Scattering, Radiation
  • Thermodynamics
  • beta-Lactamase Inhibitors*
  • beta-Lactamases / chemistry*
  • beta-Lactamases / genetics


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • beta-Lactamase Inhibitors
  • Octoxynol
  • beta-Lactamases