2016: A Year in Protein-Drug Complexes
Proteins are tiny molecular machines. While not visible with the naked eye, their structures and functions can be investigated and understood through various experimental methods. Proteins perform many of the tasks needed to support living cells. Illnesses, such as cancer, can occur when they are prevented from performing their normal jobs. Other ailments are caused when foreign proteins (such as from bacteria or viruses) interfere with ours. Most drugs are small chemicals, even smaller than proteins, that work by binding to target proteins and modifying their actions within our cells. Other drugs are modified proteins that can take the place of improperly operating native proteins.
Some of our most powerful anticancer drugs completely disable an essential molecular machine, without which the cell cannot survive. These drugs kill cancer cells outright. Other drugs, such as cholesterol lowering agents, blunt the action of less-critical proteins to benefit patients.
We know a great deal about how drugs work because scientists in academe and the pharmaceutical industry are able to examine drug-protein complexes at the level of individual atoms. These three-dimensional (3D) atomic structures allow us to see how drugs bind to their protein targets in exquisite detail. Frequently, these structures suggest ways to modify the structure of the drug to better fit the target protein, either to improve efficacy or to reduce the likelihood of side effects.
These structures of proteins and drugs highlighted in this calendar, along with many others, can be explored at the RCSB PDB (rcsb.org).