Definition and display of steric, hydrophobic, and hydrogen-bonding properties of ligand binding sites in proteins using Lee and Richards accessible surface: validation of a high-resolution graphical tool for drug design

J Med Chem. 1992 May 15;35(10):1671-84. doi: 10.1021/jm00088a002.


The accessible surface, described by Lee and Richards (the L&R surface: J. Mol. Biol. 1971, 55, 379), has remarkably useful properties for displaying ligand-protein interactions. The surface is placed one van der Waals radius plus one probe radius away from the protein atoms. The ligands are displayed in skeletal form. With a suitable probe radius, those parts of the ligand in good van der Waals contact with the protein binding site are found superimposed on the L&R surface. Display of the surface using parallel contours therefore provides a very powerful guide for interactive drug design because only ligand atoms lying on or close to the surface are in low-energy contact. The ability of the surface to accurately display steric complementarity between ligands and proteins was optimized using data from small molecule crystal structures. The possibility of displaying the chemical specificity of the binding site was also investigated. The surface can be colored to give precise information about chemical specificity. Electrostatic potential, electrostatic gradient, and distance to hydrogen-bonding groups were tested as methods of displaying chemical specificity. The ability of these methods to describe the complementarity actually observed in the interior of proteins was compared. High-resolution crystal data for ribonuclease and trypsin was used. The environment surrounding extended peptide chains in the protein was treated as a virtual binding site. The peptide chain served as a virtual ligand. This large sample of experimental data was used to measure the correlation between type of ligand atom and the calculated property of the nearest binding site surface. The best correlation was obtained using hydrogen-bonding properties of the binding site. Using this parameter the surface could be divided into three separate zones representing the hydrophobic, hydrogen-bond-acceptor, and hydrogen-bond-donor properties of the binding site. The percentage of hydrophobic ligand atoms found to lie closest to the hydrophobic protein surface was 91%. The equivalent scores for ligand hydrogen-acceptor atoms and hydrogen-donor atoms found at the corresponding complementarity zone were 94% and 91%. The surface zones can be readily displayed using three colors. To test the method on real ligand/binding site interactions, nine thermolysin-inhibitor complexes of known structure were evaluated using the parameters and criteria derived from the protein-packing study and a correlation between complementary contacts and logarithm of potency was obtained which had an r2 of 0.99.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Drug Design*
  • Hydrogen / chemistry*
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Surface Properties
  • Thermolysin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Thermolysin / metabolism
  • Trypsin / metabolism
  • Trypsin Inhibitors / metabolism


  • Ligands
  • Proteins
  • Trypsin Inhibitors
  • Hydrogen
  • Trypsin
  • Thermolysin