Theory and applications of differential scanning fluorimetry in early-stage drug discovery

Biophys Rev. 2020 Feb;12(1):85-104. doi: 10.1007/s12551-020-00619-2. Epub 2020 Jan 31.


Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is an accessible, rapid, and economical biophysical technique that has seen many applications over the years, ranging from protein folding state detection to the identification of ligands that bind to the target protein. In this review, we discuss the theory, applications, and limitations of DSF, including the latest applications of DSF by ourselves and other researchers. We show that DSF is a powerful high-throughput tool in early drug discovery efforts. We place DSF in the context of other biophysical methods frequently used in drug discovery and highlight their benefits and downsides. We illustrate the uses of DSF in protein buffer optimization for stability, refolding, and crystallization purposes and provide several examples of each. We also show the use of DSF in a more downstream application, where it is used as an in vivo validation tool of ligand-target interaction in cell assays. Although DSF is a potent tool in buffer optimization and large chemical library screens when it comes to ligand-binding validation and optimization, orthogonal techniques are recommended as DSF is prone to false positives and negatives.

Keywords: Buffer optimization; Crystallization; Fluorimetry; Folding; Ligands screening; Refolding; Thermal stability; Unfolding.

Publication types

  • Review