Determination of the affinity of drugs toward serum albumin by measurement of the quenching of the intrinsic tryptophan fluorescence of the protein

Dennis E. Epps, Thomas J. Raub, Valeria Caiolfa, Augusto Chiari, Moreno Zamai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Binding of new chemical entities to serum proteins is an issue confronting pharmaceutical companies during development of potential therapeutic agents. Most drugs bind to the most abundant plasma protein, human serum albumin (HSA), at two major binding sites. Excepting fluorescence spectroscopy, existing methods for assaying drug binding to serum albumin are insensitive to higher-affinity compounds and can be labour-intensive, time-consuming, and usually require compound-specific assays. This led us to examine alternative ways to measure drug-albumin interaction. One method described here uses fluorescence quenching of the single tryptophan (Trp) residue in HSA excited at 295 nm to measure drug-binding affinity. Unfortunately, many compounds absorb, fluoresce, or both, in this UV wavelength region of the spectrum. Several types of binding phenomenon and spectral interference were identified by use of six structurally unrelated compounds and the equations necessary to make corrections mathematically were derived and applied to calculate binding constants accurately. The general cases were: direct quenching of Trp fluorescence by optically transparent ligands with low or high affinities; binding of optically transparent, non-fluorescent ligands to two specific sites where both sites or only one site result in Trp fluorescence quenching; and chromophores whose absorption either overlaps the Trp emission and quenches by energy transfer or absorbs light at the Trp fluorescence excitation wavelength producing absorptive screening as well as fluorescence quenching. Unless identification of the site specificity of drug binding to serum albumin is desired, quenching of the Trp fluorescence of albumin by titration with ligand is a rapid and facile method for determining the binding affinities of drugs for serum albumin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-48
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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