Mechanisms of Specific versus Nonspecific Interactions of Aggregation-Prone Inhibitors and Attenuators
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A common source of false positives in drug discovery is ligand self-association into large colloidal assemblies that nonspecifically inhibit target proteins. However, the mechanisms of aggregation-based inhibition (ABI) and ABI-attenuation by additives, such as Triton X-100 (TX) and human serum albumin (HSA), are not fully understood. Here, we investigate the molecular basis of ABI and ABI-attenuation through the lens of NMR and coupled thermodynamic cycles. We unexpectedly discover a new class of aggregating ligands that exhibit negligible interactions with proteins but act as competitive sinks for the free inhibitor, resulting in bell-shaped dose-response curves. TX attenuates ABI by converting inhibitory, protein-binding aggregates into nonbinding coaggregates, whereas HSA minimizes nonspecific ligand interactions by functioning as a reservoir for free inhibitor and preventing self-association. Hence, both TX and HSA are useful tools to minimize false positives arising from nonspecific binding but at the cost of potentially introducing false negatives due to suppression of specific interactions.
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