Halogen bonding: an underestimated player in membrane-ligand interactions

01 February 2021, Version 3
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Halogen bonds (XBs) are noncovalent interactions where halogen atoms act as electrophilic species interacting with Lewis bases. These interactions are relevant in biochemical systems being increasingly explored in drug discovery, mainly to modulate protein–ligand interactions, but are also found in engineered protein or nucleic acid systems. In this work, we report direct evidence for the existence of XBs in the context of biological membrane systems thus expanding the scope of application of these interactions. Indeed, our molecular dynamics simulations show the presence of favorable interactions between halobenzene derivatives and both phosphate or ester oxygen acceptors from model phospholipid bilayers, thus supporting the existence of XB mediated phospholipid–halogen recognition phenomena influencing the membrane insertion profile of the ligands and their orientational preferences. This represents a relevant interaction, previously overlooked, eventually determining the pharmacological or toxicological activity of halogenated compounds and hence with potential implications in drug discovery and development, a place where such species account for a significant part of the chemical space. We also provide insights into a potential role for XBs in water-to membrane insertion of halogenated ligands as XBs are systematically observed during this process. Therefore, our data strongly suggests that, as the ubiquitous hydrogen bond, XBs should be accounted for in the development of membrane partition models.


halogen bonding
drug–phospholipid interactions
biomolecular recognition
membrane permeation
molecular dynamics simulations

Supplementary materials



Comments are not moderated before they are posted, but they can be removed by the site moderators if they are found to be in contravention of our Commenting Policy [opens in a new tab] - please read this policy before you post. Comments should be used for scholarly discussion of the content in question. You can find more information about how to use the commenting feature here [opens in a new tab] .
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy [opens in a new tab] and Terms of Service [opens in a new tab] apply.