Enzyme promiscuity: a mechanistic and evolutionary perspective

Annu Rev Biochem. 2010;79:471-505. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biochem-030409-143718.


Many, if not most, enzymes can promiscuously catalyze reactions, or act on substrates, other than those for which they evolved. Here, we discuss the structural, mechanistic, and evolutionary implications of this manifestation of infidelity of molecular recognition. We define promiscuity and related phenomena and also address their generality and physiological implications. We discuss the mechanistic enzymology of promiscuity--how enzymes, which generally exert exquisite specificity, catalyze other, and sometimes barely related, reactions. Finally, we address the hypothesis that promiscuous enzymatic activities serve as evolutionary starting points and highlight the unique evolutionary features of promiscuous enzyme functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Catalysis
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Enzymes / chemistry
  • Enzymes / genetics*
  • Enzymes / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Enzymes