Thermodynamics-based drug design: strategies for inhibiting protein-protein interactions

Future Med Chem. 2011 Jul;3(9):1129-37. doi: 10.4155/fmc.11.81.


The inhibition of protein-protein interactions and their ensuing signaling processes play an increasingly important role in modern medicine. Small molecular-weight inhibitors that can be administered orally are the preferred approach but efficient strategies for developing them are not yet generally available. Due to the large size difference between the protein-protein interface and the small molecule, inhibitor interactions are expected to extend to only a small region of the interface. If this is the case, classical competitive inhibition may be hard to achieve. In addition, competitive inhibition wastes binding energy that can be effectively used to inhibit signaling. The best and most energy-efficient approach would be the development of small molecules that bind at the protein-protein interface and inhibit the signaling process without displacing the protein ligand. This approach seems feasible knowing that the binding energy is not evenly distributed within the binding interface but concentrated in discrete hotspots, and that the initiation of signaling may not overlap with those hotspots. We outline a general protein-protein inhibition model that extends from competitive to noncompetitive scenarios and apply it to the development of HIV-1 gp120-CD4 inhibitors. This rigorous model can be easily applied to the analysis of protein-protein inhibition data and used as a tool in the optimization of inhibitor molecules.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Binding Sites / drug effects
  • Binding, Competitive / drug effects
  • Drug Design*
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding / drug effects*
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Protein Interaction Maps
  • Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Thermodynamics*


  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120
  • Proteins
  • gp120 protein, Human immunodeficiency virus 1