Structure-based discovery of inhibitors of thymidylate synthase

Science. 1993 Mar 5;259(5100):1445-50. doi: 10.1126/science.8451640.


A molecular docking computer program (DOCK) was used to screen the Fine Chemical Directory, a database of commercially available compounds, for molecules that are complementary to thymidylate synthase (TS), a chemotherapeutic target. Besides retrieving the substrate and several known inhibitors, DOCK proposed putative inhibitors previously unknown to bind to the enzyme. Three of these compounds inhibited Lactobacillus casei TS at submillimolar concentrations. One of these inhibitors, sulisobenzone, crystallized with TS in two configurations that differed from the DOCK-favored geometry: a counterion was bound in the substrate site, which resulted in a 6 to 9 angstrom displacement of the inhibitor. The structure of the complexes suggested another binding region in the active site that could be exploited. This region was probed with molecules sterically similar to sulisobenzone, which led to the identification of a family of phenolphthalein analogs that inhibit TS in the 1 to 30 micromolar range. These inhibitors do not resemble the substrates of the enzyme. A crystal structure of phenolphthalein with TS shows that it binds in the target site in a configuration that resembles the one suggested by DOCK.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Benzophenones / chemistry
  • Benzophenones / pharmacology*
  • Binding Sites
  • Computers*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Lactobacillus casei / enzymology
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Structure
  • Phenolphthaleins / chemistry
  • Phenolphthaleins / pharmacology*
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Thymidylate Synthase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Thymidylate Synthase / chemistry
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Benzophenones
  • Phenolphthaleins
  • sulisobenzone
  • Thymidylate Synthase