Three-dimensional structure of acetylcholinesterase and of its complexes with anticholinesterase drugs

Chem Biol Interact. 1993 Jun;87(1-3):187-97. doi: 10.1016/0009-2797(93)90042-w.


Based on our recent X-ray crystallographic determination of the structure of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) from Torpedo californica, we can see for the first time, at atomic resolution, a protein binding pocket for the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. It was found that the active site consists of a catalytic triad (S200-H440-E327) which lies close to the bottom of a deep and narrow gorge, which is lined with the rings of 14 aromatic amino acid residues. Despite the complexity of this array of aromatic rings, we suggested, on the basis of modelling which involved docking of the acetylcholine (ACh) molecule in an all-trans configuration, that the quaternary group of the choline moiety makes close contact with the indole ring of W84. In order to study the interaction of AChE with anticholinesterase drugs at the structural level, we have incorporated into the acetylcholinesterase crystals several different inhibitors, and have recently determined the 3-D structure of AChE:edrophonium and AChE:tacrine complexes. The crystal structures of both of these complexes are in good agreement with our model building of the ACh bound in the active site of AChE and indicate the interactions of these two drugs with the enzyme.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / chemistry*
  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Edrophonium / chemistry*
  • Edrophonium / metabolism
  • Edrophonium / pharmacology
  • Protein Conformation
  • Tacrine / chemistry*
  • Tacrine / metabolism
  • Tacrine / pharmacology
  • Torpedo / metabolism
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Tacrine
  • Edrophonium
  • Acetylcholinesterase