CD spectroscopy is an established and valuable technique for examining protein structure, dynamics and folding. Because of its ability to sensitively detect conformational changes, it has important potential for drug discovery, enabling screening for ligand and drug binding, and detection of potential candidates for new pharmaceuticals. The binding of the anti-tumour agent Taxol to the anti-apoptosis protein Bcl-2 [Rodi, Janes, Sanganee, Holton, Wallace and Makowski (1999) J. Mol. Biol. 285, 197–204] and the binding of the anti-epileptic drug lamotrigine to voltage-gated sodium channels [Cronin, O'Reilly, Duclohier and Wallace (2003) J. Biol. Chem. 278, 10675–10682] are used as examples to show changes detectable by CD involving secondary structure, and are contrasted with the binding of the agonist carbamylcholine to acetylcholine receptors [Mielke and Wallace (1988) J. Biol. Chem. 263, 8177–8182], an example where binding does not involve a secondary structural change. Synchrotron radiation CD spectroscopy offers significant enhancements with respect to conventional CD spectroscopy, which will enable its usage for high-throughput screening and as a tool in ‘chemical genomics’ or ‘reverse chemical genetics’ strategies for ligand identification. The lower wavelength data available enable more detailed, sensitive and accurate detection, the higher light intensity permits much smaller amounts of both proteins and drug candidates to be used in the screening, and future technological developments in sample handling and detection should enable automated high-throughput screening to be performed.

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