The statistical-thermodynamic basis for computation of binding affinities: a critical review

Biophys J. 1997 Mar;72(3):1047-69. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(97)78756-3.


Although the statistical thermodynamics of noncovalent binding has been considered in a number of theoretical papers, few methods of computing binding affinities are derived explicitly from this underlying theory. This has contributed to uncertainty and controversy in certain areas. This article therefore reviews and extends the connections of some important computational methods with the underlying statistical thermodynamics. A derivation of the standard free energy of binding forms the basis of this review. This derivation should be useful in formulating novel computational methods for predicting binding affinities. It also permits several important points to be established. For example, it is found that the double-annihilation method of computing binding energy does not yield the standard free energy of binding, but can be modified to yield this quantity. The derivation also makes it possible to define clearly the changes in translational, rotational, configurational, and solvent entropy upon binding. It is argued that molecular mass has a negligible effect upon the standard free energy of binding for biomolecular systems, and that the cratic entropy defined by Gurney is not a useful concept. In addition, the use of continuum models of the solvent in binding calculations is reviewed, and a formalism is presented for incorporating a limited number of solvent molecules explicitly.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites*
  • Entropy
  • Ligands
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Models, Structural
  • Potentiometry
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Solutions
  • Solvents
  • Thermodynamics*


  • Ligands
  • Proteins
  • Solutions
  • Solvents