Human serum albumin (HSA) is one of the major carrier proteins in the body and constitutes approximately half of the protein found in blood plasma. It plays an important role in lipid metabolism, and its ability to reversibly bind a large variety of pharmaceutical compounds makes it a crucial determinant of drug pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. This review deals with one of the protein’s major binding sites “Sudlow I” which includes a binding pocket for the drug warfarin (WAR). The binding nature of this important site can be characterized by measuring the spectroscopic changes when a ligand is bound. Using several drugs, including WAR, and other drug-like molecules as ligands, the results emphasize the nature of Sudlow I as a flexible binding site, capable of binding a variety of ligands by adapting its binding pockets. The high affinity of the WAR pocket for binding versatile molecular structures stems from the flexibility of the amino acids forming the pocket. The binding site is shown to have an ionization ability which is important to consider when using drugs that are known to bind in Sudlow I. Several studies point to the important role of water molecules trapped inside the binding site in molecular recognition and ligand binding. Water inside the protein’s cavity is crucial in maintaining the balance between the hydrophobic and hydrophilic nature of the binding site. Upon the unfolding and refolding of HSA, more water molecules are trapped inside the binding site which cause some swelling that prevents a full recovery from the denatured state. Better understanding of the mechanism of binding in macromolecules such as HSA and other proteins can be achieved by combining experimental and theoretical studies which produce significant synergies in studying complex biochemical phenomena.
Keywords: Human serum albumin, drug binding sites, warfarin binding site, Förster resonance energy transfer, fluorescent probes, flexibility and affinity, ionization ability, docking and molecular dynamics simulations, protein unfolding, protein refolding.