Journal Club: The complexity of Binding

Molecular recognition is the mechanism by which two or more molecules come together to form a specific complex. But how do molecules recognise and interact with each other?

In the TIBS Opinion article by Ruth Nussinov group, an extended conformational selection model is described. This model includes the classical lock-and-key, induced fit, conformational selection mechanisms and their combination.

The general concept of equilibrium shift of the ensemble was proposed nearly 15 years ago, or perharps earlier. The basic idea is that proteins in solution pre-exist in a number of conformational substates, including those with binding sites complementary to a ligand. The distribution of the substates can be visualised as free energy landscape (see figure above), which helps in understanding the dynamic nature of the conformational equilibrium.

This equilibrium is not static, it is sensitive to the environment and many other factors. An equilibrium shift can be achieved by (a) sequence modifications of special protein regions termed protein segments, (b) post-translational modifications of a protein, (c) ligand binding, etc.

So why are these concepts discussed and published again?

While the theory is straight-forward, proving conformational selection is hard and it is even harder to quantify it computationally. Experimental techniques such Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), single molecule studies (e.g. protein yoga), targeted mutagenesis and its effect on the energy landscape, plus molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have been helping to conceptualise conformational transitions. Meanwhile, there is still a long way to go before a full understanding of atomic scale pathways is achieved.

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