Allostery: an illustrated definition for the 'second secret of life'

Trends Biochem Sci. 2008 Sep;33(9):420-5. doi: 10.1016/j.tibs.2008.05.009. Epub 2008 Aug 15.


Although allosteric regulation is the 'second secret of life', the molecular mechanisms that give rise to allostery currently elude understanding. In my opinion, experimental progress is hampered by a commonly used but misleading definition of allostery as protein structural changes that are elicited by the binding of a single ligand. Allostery is more strictly defined in functional terms as a comparison of how one ligand binds in the absence, versus the presence, of a second ligand. Therefore, as each of the two binding events involves two protein complexes, a study of allostery must consider four complexes and not just two. Such a comparison can distinguish allosteric from non-allosteric protein changes, the importance of which is frequently overlooked. When a study of all four complexes is not feasible, an alternative, albeit limited, strategy can identify subsets of allosteric-specific changes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation*
  • Allosteric Site
  • Ligands
  • Models, Biological
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Ligands
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Proteins