In pharmacology, the term mechanism of action (MOA) refers to the specific biochemical interaction through which a drug substance produces its pharmacological effect. A mechanism of action usually includes mention of the specific molecular targets to which the drug binds, such as an enzyme or receptor. Receptor sites have specific affinities for drugs based on the chemical structure of the drug, as well as the specific action that occurs there. Drugs that do not bind to receptors produce their corresponding therapeutic effect by simply interacting with chemical or physical properties in the body. Common examples of drugs that utilize this method are antacids and laxatives.
For example, the mechanism of action of aspirin involves irreversible inhibition of the enzyme cyclooxygenase, therefore suppressing the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes, thereby reducing pain and inflammation. However, some drug mechanisms of action are still unknown. For example, phenytoin is used to treat symptoms of epileptic seizures, but the mechanism by which this is achieved is still unknown, despite the fact that the drug has been in use for many years.