Structural determinants of trypsin affinity and specificity for cationic inhibitors

Fabio Polticelli, Paolo Ascenzi, Martino Bolognesi, Barry Honig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The binding free energies of four inhibitors to bovine β-trypsin are calculated. The inhibitors use either ornithine, lysine, or arginine to bind to the S1 specificity site. The electrostatic contribution to binding free energy is calculated by solving the finite difference Poisson-Boltzmann equation, the contribution of nonpolar interactions is calculated using a free energy-surface area relationship and the loss of conformational entropy is estimated both for trypsin and ligand side chains. Binding free energy values are of a reasonable magnitude and the relative affinity of the four inhibitors for trypsin is correctly predicted. Electrostatic interactions are found to oppose binding in all cases. However, in the case of ornithine- and lysine-based inhibitors, the salt bridge formed between their charged group and the partially buried carboxylate of Asp189 is found to stabilize the complex. Our analysis reveals how the molecular architecture of the trypsin binding site results in highly specific recognition of substrates and inhibitors. Specifically, partially burying Asp189 in the inhibitor-free enzyme decreases the penalty for desolvation of this group upon complexation. Water molecules trapped in the binding interface further stabilize the buried ion pair, resulting in a favorable electrostatic contribution of the ion pair formed with ornithine and lysine side chains. Moreover, all side chains that form the trypsin specificity site are partially buried, and hence, relatively immobile in the inhibitor-free state, thus reducing the entropic cost of complexation. The implications of the results for the general problem of recognition and binding are considered. A novel finding in this regard is that like charged molecules can have electrostatic contributions to binding that are more favorable than oppositely charged molecules due to enhanced interactions with the solvent in the highly charged complex that is formed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2621-2629
Number of pages9
JournalProtein Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • Binding energy
  • Ion pairs
  • Molecular recognition
  • Poisson-Boltzmann

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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