The Recognition of Unrelated Ligands by Identical Proteins

ACS Chem Biol. 2018 Sep 21;13(9):2522-2533. doi: 10.1021/acschembio.8b00443. Epub 2018 Aug 27.


Unrelated ligands, often found in drug discovery campaigns, can bind to the same receptor, even with the same protein residues. To investigate how this might occur, and whether it might be typically possible to find unrelated ligands for the same drug target, we sought examples of topologically unrelated ligands that bound to the same protein in the same site. Seventy-six pairs of ligands, each bound to the same protein (152 complexes total), were considered, classified into three groups. In the first (31 pairs of complexes), unrelated ligands interacted largely with the same pocket residues through different functional groups. In the second group (39 pairs), the unrelated ligand in each pair engaged different residues, though still within the same pocket. The smallest group (6 pairs) contained ligands with different scaffolds but with shared functional groups interacting with the same residues. We found that there are multiple chemically unrelated but physically similar functional groups that can complement any given local protein pocket; when these functional group substitutions are combined within a single molecule, they lead to topologically unrelated ligands that can each well-complement a site. It may be that many active and orthosteric sites can recognize topologically unrelated ligands.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Databases, Protein
  • Drug Discovery / methods*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Protein Binding
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Small Molecule Libraries / chemistry
  • Small Molecule Libraries / pharmacology


  • Ligands
  • Proteins
  • Small Molecule Libraries