Binding of one protein to another is involved in nearly all biological functions, yet the principles governing the interaction of proteins are not fully understood. To analyze the contributions of individual amino acid residues in protein-protein binding we have compiled a database of 2325 alanine mutants for which the change in free energy of binding upon mutation to alanine has been measured (available at http//motorhead. ucsf.edu/thorn/hotspot). Our analysis shows that at the level of side-chains there is little correlation between buried surface area and free energy of binding. We find that the free energy of binding is not evenly distributed across interfaces; instead, there are hot spots of binding energy made up of a small subset of residues in the dimer interface. These hot spots are enriched in tryptophan, tyrosine and arginine, and are surrounded by energetically less important residues that most likely serve to occlude bulk solvent from the hot spot. Occlusion of solvent is found to be a necessary condition for highly energetic interactions.