Toward an Understanding of Pan-Assay Interference Compounds and Promiscuity: A Structural Perspective on Binding Modes

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Pan-assay interference compounds (PAINS) are promiscuous compound classes that produce false positive hits in high-throughput screenings. Yet, the mechanisms of PAINS activity are poorly understood. Although PAINS are often associated with protein reactivity, several recent studies have shown that they also mediate noncovalent interactions. Aiming at a deep understanding of PAINS promiscuity, we performed an analysis of the Protein Data Bank to characterize the binding modes of PAINS. We explored the binding mode conservation of 34 PAINS classes present in 871 ligands and among 517 protein targets. The two major findings of this work are the following: First, different PAINS classes exhibit different levels of binding mode conservation. Our novel classification of PAINS based on binding mode similarity enables a rational assessment of PAINS from a structural perspective. Second, PAINS classes with variable binding modes can bind with high affinity. The evaluation of noncovalent binding modes of PAINS-like compounds sheds light on the mechanisms of promiscuous binding. Our findings could facilitate the decisions on how to deal with PAINS and help scientists to understand why PAINS produce hits in their screenings.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2248-2262
Number of pages15
JournalACS: Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2021

External IDs

Scopus 85106499405
ORCID /0000-0003-2848-6949/work/141543356



  • Databases, Protein, Drug Discovery, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Ligands