‘Partial’ competition of heterobivalent ligand binding may be mistaken for allosteric interactions: a comparison of different target interaction models

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Non-competitive drugs that confer allosteric modulation of orthosteric ligand binding are of increasing interest as therapeutic agents. Sought-after advantages include a ceiling level to drug effect and greater receptor-subtype selectivity. It is thus important to determine the mode of interaction of newly identified receptor ligands early in the drug discovery process and binding studies with labelled orthosteric ligands constitute a traditional approach for this. According to the general allosteric ternary complex model, allosteric ligands that exhibit negative cooperativity may generate distinctive ‘competition’ curves: they will not reach baseline levels and their nadir will increase in par with the orthosteric ligand concentration. This behaviour is often considered a key hallmark of allosteric interactions.


The present study is based on differential equation-based simulations.


The differential equation-based simulations revealed that the same ‘competition binding’ pattern was also obtained when a monovalent ligand binds to one of the target sites of a heterobivalent ligand, even if this process is exempt of allosteric interactions. This pattern was not strictly reciprocal when the binding of each of the ligands was recorded. The prominence of this phenomenon may vary from one heterobivalent ligand to another and we suggest that this phenomenon may take place with ligands that have been proposed to bind according to ‘two-domain’ and ‘charnière’ models.


The present findings indicate a familiar experimental situation where bivalency may give rise to observations that could inadvertently be interpreted as allosteric binding. Yet, both mechanisms could be differentiated based on alternative experiments and structural considerations.

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