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Journal Article

Potential of X-ray free-electron lasers for challenging targets in structure-based drug discovery


Nass Kovacs,  Gabriela
Department of Biomolecular Mechanisms, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Max Planck Society;

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Nass Kovacs, G. (2021). Potential of X-ray free-electron lasers for challenging targets in structure-based drug discovery. Drug Discovery Today: Technologies, 39, 101-110. doi:10.1016/j.ddtec.2021.08.002.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-17AC-C
X-ray crystallography has provided the vast majority of three-dimensional macromolecular structures. Most of these are high-resolution structures that enable a detailed understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms. The standardized workflows and robust infrastructure of synchrotron-based macromolecular crystallography (MX) offer the high throughput essential to cost-conscious investigations in structure- and fragment-based drug discovery. Nonetheless conventional MX is limited by fundamental bottlenecks, in particular X-ray radiation damage, which limits the amount of data extractable from a crystal. While this limit can in principle be circumvented by using larger crystals, crystals of the requisite size often cannot be obtained in sufficient quality. That is especially true for membrane protein crystals, which constitute the majority of current drug targets. This conventional paradigm for MX-suitable samples changed dramatically with the advent of serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) based on the ultra-short and extremely intense X-ray pulses of X-ray Free-Electron Lasers. SFX provides high-resolution structures from tiny crystals and does so with uniquely low levels of radiation damage. This has yielded a number of novel structures for Gprotein coupled receptors, one of the most relevant
membrane protein superfamilies for drug discovery, as well as tantalizing advances in time-resolved crystallography that elucidate protein dynamics. This article attempts to map the potential of SFX for drug discovery, while providing the reader with an overview of the yet remaining technical challenges associated with such a novel technique as SFX.