A Unified View of "How Allostery Works"

Chung Jung Tsai, Ruth Nussinov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The question of how allostery works was posed almost 50 years ago. Since then it has been the focus of much effort. This is for two reasons: first, the intellectual curiosity of basic science and the desire to understand fundamental phenomena, and second, its vast practical importance. Allostery is at play in all processes in the living cell, and increasingly in drug discovery. Many models have been successfully formulated, and are able to describe allostery even in the absence of a detailed structural mechanism. However, conceptual schemes designed to qualitatively explain allosteric mechanisms usually lack a quantitative mathematical model, and are unable to link its thermodynamic and structural foundations. This hampers insight into oncogenic mutations in cancer progression and biased agonists' actions. Here, we describe how allostery works from three different standpoints: thermodynamics, free energy landscape of population shift, and structure; all with exactly the same allosteric descriptors. This results in a unified view which not only clarifies the elusive allosteric mechanism but also provides structural grasp of agonist-mediated signaling pathways, and guides allosteric drug discovery. Of note, the unified view reasons that allosteric coupling (or communication) does not determine the allosteric efficacy; however, a communication channel is what makes potential binding sites allosteric.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1003394
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014


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