Selective binding of pyrene in subdomain IB of human serum albumin: Combining energy transfer spectroscopy and molecular modelling to understand protein binding flexibility

Irene Ling, Mohamed Taha, Nada A. Al-Sharji, Osama K. Abou-Zied*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The ability of human serum albumin (HSA) to bind medium-sized hydrophobic molecules is important for the distribution, metabolism, and efficacy of many drugs. Herein, the interaction between pyrene, a hydrophobic fluorescent probe, and HSA was thoroughly investigated using steady-state and time-resolved fluorescence techniques, ligand docking, and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. A slight quenching of the fluorescence signal from Trp214 (the sole tryptophan residue in the protein) in the presence of pyrene was used to determine the ligand binding site in the protein, using Förster's resonance energy transfer (FRET) theory. The estimated FRET apparent distance between pyrene and Trp214 was 27 Å which was closely reproduced by the docking analysis (29 Å) and MD simulation (32 Å). The highest affinity site for pyrene was found to be in subdomain IB from the docking results. The calculated equilibrium structure of the complex using MD simulation shows that the ligand is largely stabilized by hydrophobic interaction with Phe165, Phe127, and the nonpolar moieties of Tyr138 and Tyr161. The fluorescence vibronic peak ratio I1/I3 of bound pyrene inside HSA indicates the presence of polar effect in the local environment of pyrene which is less than that of free pyrene in buffer. This was clarified by the MD simulation results in which an average of 5.7 water molecules were found within 0.5 nm of pyrene in the binding site. Comparing the fluorescence signals and lifetimes of pyrene inside HSA to that free in buffer, the high tendency of pyrene to form dimer was almost completely suppressed inside HSA, indicating a high selectivity of the binding pocket toward pyrene monomer. The current results emphasize the ability of HSA, as a major carrier of several drugs and ligands in blood, to bind hydrophobic molecules in cavities other than subdomain IIA which is known to bind most hydrophobic drugs. This ability stems from the nature of the amino acids forming the binding sites of the protein that can easily adapt their shape to accommodate a variety of molecular structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-44
Number of pages9
JournalSpectrochimica Acta - Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy
Publication statusPublished - Apr 5 2018


  • Fluorescent probe
  • Förster-resonance energy transfer
  • Molecular docking
  • Molecular dynamics simulation
  • Pyrene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Instrumentation
  • Spectroscopy


Dive into the research topics of 'Selective binding of pyrene in subdomain IB of human serum albumin: Combining energy transfer spectroscopy and molecular modelling to understand protein binding flexibility'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this