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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 806072, 15 pages
Review Article

Exploring the Ligand-Protein Networks in Traditional Chinese Medicine: Current Databases, Methods, and Applications

National Key Laboratory of Microbial Metabolism and College of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 800 Dongchuan Road, Minhang District, Shanghai 200240, China

Received 24 February 2013; Revised 6 May 2013; Accepted 7 May 2013

Academic Editor: Weidong Zhang

Copyright © 2013 Mingzhu Zhao et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which has thousands of years of clinical application among China and other Asian countries, is the pioneer of the “multicomponent-multitarget” and network pharmacology. Although there is no doubt of the efficacy, it is difficult to elucidate convincing underlying mechanism of TCM due to its complex composition and unclear pharmacology. The use of ligand-protein networks has been gaining significant value in the history of drug discovery while its application in TCM is still in its early stage. This paper firstly surveys TCM databases for virtual screening that have been greatly expanded in size and data diversity in recent years. On that basis, different screening methods and strategies for identifying active ingredients and targets of TCM are outlined based on the amount of network information available, both on sides of ligand bioactivity and the protein structures. Furthermore, applications of successful in silico target identification attempts are discussed in detail along with experiments in exploring the ligand-protein networks of TCM. Finally, it will be concluded that the prospective application of ligand-protein networks can be used not only to predict protein targets of a small molecule, but also to explore the mode of action of TCM.