Chemical Specificity

The force of electrical attraction between oppositely charged regions on a protein and a ligand decreases markedly as the distance between them increases. The even weaker van der Waals forces act only between nonpolar groups that are very close to each other. Therefore, for a ligand to bind to a protein, the ligand must be close to the protein surface. This proximity occurs when the shape of the ligand is complementary to the shape of the protein binding site, such that the two fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle (Figure 4-1).

The binding between a ligand and a protein may be so specific that a binding site can bind only one type of ligand and no other. Such selectivity allows a protein to "identify" (by binding) one particular molecule in a solution containing hundreds of different molecules. This ability of a protein binding site to bind specific ligands is known as chemical specificity, since the binding site determines the type of chemical that is bound.

In Chapter 2 we described how the conformation of a protein is determined by the location of the vari ous amino acids along the polypeptide chain. Accordingly, proteins with different amino acid sequences have different shapes and therefore differently shaped binding sites, each with its own chemical specificity. As illustrated in Figure 4-2, the amino acids that interact with a ligand at a binding site need not be adjacent to each other along the polypeptide chain since the folding of the protein may bring various segments of the molecule into juxtaposition.

Binding site

Ligand

Protein

Bound complex

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

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