Promiscuous aggregate-based inhibitors promote enzyme unfolding

J Med Chem. 2009 Apr 9;52(7):2067-75. doi: 10.1021/jm801605r.


One of the leading sources of false positives in early drug discovery is the formation of organic small molecule aggregates, which inhibit enzymes nonspecifically at micromolar concentrations in aqueous solution. The molecular basis for this widespread problem remains hazy. To investigate the mechanism of inhibition at a molecular level, we determined changes in solvent accessibility that occur when an enzyme binds to an aggregate using hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry. For AmpC beta-lactamase, binding to aggregates of the small molecule rottlerin increased the deuterium exchange of all 10 reproducibly detectable peptides, which covered 41% of the sequence of beta-lactamase. This suggested a global increase in proton accessibility upon aggregate binding, consistent with denaturation. We then investigated whether enzyme-aggregate complexes were more susceptible to proteolysis than uninhibited enzyme. For five aggregators, trypsin degradation of beta-lactamase increased substantially when beta-lactamase was inhibited by aggregates, whereas uninhibited enzyme was generally stable to digestion. Combined, these results suggest that the mechanism of action of aggregate-based inhibitors proceeds via partial protein unfolding when bound to an aggregate particle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetophenones / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Benzopyrans / chemistry*
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Deuterium
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry*
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Protein Folding
  • Solvents / chemistry
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Water / chemistry
  • beta-Lactamase Inhibitors
  • beta-Lactamases / chemistry*


  • Acetophenones
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Benzopyrans
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Peptides
  • Solvents
  • beta-Lactamase Inhibitors
  • Water
  • Deuterium
  • rottlerin
  • AmpC beta-lactamases
  • beta-Lactamases