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1.  Purification, crystallization and preliminary X-ray analysis of a fusion of the LIM domains of LMO2 and the LID domain of Ldb1 
The crystallization and preliminary diffraction analysis of LMO2 in complex with the LID domain of Ldb1 is described. A three-wavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) data set was collected to 2.8 Å resolution at the Zn K edge.
LMO2 (LIM domain only 2), also known as rhombotin-2, is a transcriptional regulator that is essential for normal haematopoietic development. In malignant haematopoiesis, its ectopic expression in T cells is involved in the pathogenesis of leukaemia. LMO2 contains four zinc-finger domains and binds to the ubiquitous nuclear adaptor protein Ldb1 via the LIM-interaction domain (LID). Together, they act as scaffolding proteins and bridge important haematopoietic transcription factors such as SCL/Tal1, E2A and GATA-1. Solving the structure of the LMO2:Ldb1-LID complex would therefore be a first step towards understanding how haematopoietic specific protein complexes form and would also provide an attractive target for drug development in anticancer therapy, especially for T-cell leukaemia. Here, the expression, purification, crystallization and data collection of a fusion protein consisting of the two LIM domains of LMO2 linked to the LID domain of Ldb1 via a flexible linker is reported. The crystals belonged to space group C2, with unit-cell parameters a = 179.9, b = 51.5, c = 114.7 Å, β = 90.1°, and contained five molecules in the asymmetric unit. Multiple-wavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) data have been collected at the zinc X-ray absorption edge to a resolution of 2.8 Å and the data were used to solve the structure of the LMO2:Ldb1-LID complex. Refinement and analysis of the electron-density map is in progress.
PMCID: PMC3001649  PMID: 21045296
LMO2; Ldb1; LIM; T-cell leukaemia; zinc binding
2.  Conformational Variability of Benzamidinium Based Inhibitors 
Determining the structure of a small molecule bound to a biological receptor (e.g., a protein implicated in a disease state) is a necessary step in structure-based drug design. The preferred conformation of a small molecule can change when bound to a protein, and a detailed knowledge of the preferred conformation(s) of a bound ligand can help in optimizing the affinity of a molecule for its receptor. However, the quality of a protein/ligand complex determined using X-ray crystallography is dependent on the size of the protein, crystal quality and the realized resolution. The energy restraints used in traditional X-ray refinement procedures typically use “reduced” (i.e., neglect of electrostatics and dispersion interactions) Engh and Huber force field models that, while quite suitable for modeling proteins often are less suitable for small molecule structures due to a lack of validated parameters. Through the use of ab initio QM/MM based X-ray refinement procedures this shortcoming can be overcome especially in the active site or binding site of a small molecule inhibitor. Herein, we demonstrate that ab initio QM/MM refinement of an inhibitor/protein complex provides insights into the binding of small molecules beyond what is available using more traditional refinement protocols. In particular, QM/MM refinement studies of benzamidinium derivatives show variable conformational preferences depending on the refinement protocol used and the nature of the active site region.
PMCID: PMC2730048  PMID: 19435349
3.  Structures of Trypanosoma brucei Methionyl-tRNA Synthetase with Urea-Based Inhibitors Provide Guidance for Drug Design against Sleeping Sickness 
Methionyl-tRNA synthetase of Trypanosoma brucei (TbMetRS) is an important target in the development of new antitrypanosomal drugs. The enzyme is essential, highly flexible and displaying a large degree of changes in protein domains and binding pockets in the presence of substrate, product and inhibitors. Targeting this protein will benefit from a profound understanding of how its structure adapts to ligand binding. A series of urea-based inhibitors (UBIs) has been developed with IC50 values as low as 19 nM against the enzyme. The UBIs were shown to be orally available and permeable through the blood-brain barrier, and are therefore candidates for development of drugs for the treatment of late stage human African trypanosomiasis. Here, we expand the structural diversity of inhibitors from the previously reported collection and tested for their inhibitory effect on TbMetRS and on the growth of T. brucei cells. The binding modes and binding pockets of 14 UBIs are revealed by determination of their crystal structures in complex with TbMetRS at resolutions between 2.2 Å to 2.9 Å. The structures show binding of the UBIs through conformational selection, including occupancy of the enlarged methionine pocket and the auxiliary pocket. General principles underlying the affinity of UBIs for TbMetRS are derived from these structures, in particular the optimum way to fill the two binding pockets. The conserved auxiliary pocket might play a role in binding tRNA. In addition, a crystal structure of a ternary TbMetRS•inhibitor•AMPPCP complex indicates that the UBIs are not competing with ATP for binding, instead are interacting with ATP through hydrogen bond. This suggests a possibility that a general ‘ATP-engaging’ binding mode can be utilized for the design and development of inhibitors targeting tRNA synthetases of other disease-causing pathogen.
Author Summary
Infection by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei causes sleeping sickness, also called human African trypanosomiasis. Without treatment, the disease is fatal yet current therapeutic options are inadequate and better medicines are needed. We have previously reported several potent inhibitors of T. brucei methionyl-tRNA synthetase, an essential enzyme involved in the protein biosynthesis. Recently, a new series of the inhibitors was synthesized which has improved membrane permeability over the earlier inhibitors. When applied to mouse with T. brucei infection, the new compounds are orally available and reach the central nervous system to reduce parasite loads, and therefore are promising molecules to be developed into antitrypanosomal drug. Here, more inhibitors from this series are reported and tested for their activities. High resolution crystal structures were determined that revealed how these inhibitors bind to the target enzyme. The binding pockets of these inhibitors are thoroughly explored, providing profound insights which are beneficial for further development of MetRS inhibitors against sleeping sickness. A ternary complex of the enzyme, an inhibitor, and an ATP analogue was also determined, indicates that the inhibitor does not compete with ATP for binding. Based on this, a general approach to use inhibitors that engage ATP for binding to tRNA synthetases is proposed.
PMCID: PMC3990509  PMID: 24743796
4.  Direct detection of structurally resolved dynamics in a multi-conformation receptor-ligand complex 
Structure-based drug design relies on static protein structures despite significant evidence for the need to include protein dynamics as a serious consideration. In practice, dynamic motions are neglected because they are not understood well enough to model – a situation resulting from a lack of explicit experimental examples of dynamic receptor-ligand complexes. Here, we report high-resolution details of pronounced ~1 ms timescale motions of a receptor-small molecule complex using a combination of NMR and X-ray crystallography. Large conformational dynamics in Escherichia coli dihydrofolate reductase are driven by internal switching motions of the drug-like, nanomolar-affinity inhibitor. Carr-Purcell-Meiboom-Gill relaxation dispersion experiments and NOEs revealed the crystal structure to contain critical elements of the high energy protein-ligand conformation. The availability of accurate, structurally resolved dynamics in a protein-ligand complex should serve as a valuable benchmark for modeling dynamics in other receptor-ligand complexes and prediction of binding affinities.
PMCID: PMC3119194  PMID: 21469679
5.  Crystal structure of cardiac troponin C regulatory domain in complex with cadmium and deoxycholic acid reveals novel conformation 
Journal of molecular biology  2011;413(3):699-711.
The amino-terminal regulatory domain of cardiac troponin C (cNTnC) plays an important role as the calcium sensor for the troponin complex. Calcium binding to cNTnC results in conformational changes that trigger a cascade of events that leads to cardiac muscle contraction. Cardiac NTnC consists of two EF-hand calcium binding motifs, one of which is dysfunctional in binding calcium. Nevertheless, the defunct EF-hand still maintains a role in cNTnC function. For its structural analysis by X-ray crystallography, human cNTnC with wild-type primary sequence was crystallized in a novel crystallization condition. The crystal structure was solved from single wavelength anomalous dispersion method and refined to 2.2 Å resolution. The structure displays several novel features. Firstly, both EF-hand motifs coordinate cadmium ions derived from the crystallization milieu. Secondly, the ion coordination in the defunct EF-hand motif accompanies unusual changes in the protein conformation. Thirdly, deoxycholic acid, also derived from the crystallization milieu, is bound in the central hydrophobic cavity. This is reminiscent of the interactions observed for cardiac calcium sensitizer drugs that bind to the same core region and maintain the ‘open’ conformational state of calcium bound cNTnC. The cadmium ion coordination in the defunct EF-hand indicates that this vestigial calcium binding site retains the structural and functional elements that allow it to coordinate a cadmium ion. However, it is a result of, or concomitant with, large and unusual structural changes in cNTnC.
PMCID: PMC4068330  PMID: 21920370
Troponin C; EF-hand; cadmium ion coordination; deoxycholic acid; radiation damage
6.  Crystallization and preliminary X-ray crystallographic analysis of the oxysterol-binding protein Osh3 from Saccharomyces cerevisiae  
The PH domain and ORD of the oxysterol-binding protein Osh3 from S. cerevisae were crystallized and X-ray diffraction data were collected.
Oxysterol-binding protein (OSBP) related proteins (ORPs) are conserved from yeast to humans and are implicated in regulation of sterol homeostasis and in signal transduction pathways. Osh3 of Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a pleckstrin-homology (PH) domain-containing ORP member that regulates phosphoinositide metabolism at endoplasmic reticulum–plasma membrane contact sites. The N-terminal PH domain of Osh3 was purified and crystallized as a lysozyme fusion and the resulting crystal diffracted to 2.3 Å resolution. The crystal belonged to the monoclinic space group C2, with unit-cell parameters a = 98.03, b = 91.31, c = 84.13 Å, β = 81.41°. With two molecules in the asymmetric unit, the Matthews coefficient was 3.13 Å3 Da−1. Initial attempts to solve the structure by molecular-replacement techniques using T4 lysozyme as a search model were successful. The C-terminal OSBP-related domain (OBD) of Osh3 was crystallized by the vapour-diffusion method and the resulting crystal diffracted to 1.5 Å resolution. The crystal was orthorhombic, belonging to space group P212121, with unit-cell parameters a = 41.57, b = 87.52, c = 100.58 Å. With one molecule in the asymmetric unit, the Matthews coefficient was 2.01 Å3 Da−1. Initial attempts to solve the structure by the single-wavelength anomalous dispersion technique using bromine were successful.
PMCID: PMC3509973  PMID: 23192032
oxysterol-binding protein; Osh3; Saccharomyces cerevisiae
7.  Using Multiple Microenvironments to Find Similar Ligand-Binding Sites: Application to Kinase Inhibitor Binding 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(12):e1002326.
The recognition of cryptic small-molecular binding sites in protein structures is important for understanding off-target side effects and for recognizing potential new indications for existing drugs. Current methods focus on the geometry and detailed chemical interactions within putative binding pockets, but may not recognize distant similarities where dynamics or modified interactions allow one ligand to bind apparently divergent binding pockets. In this paper, we introduce an algorithm that seeks similar microenvironments within two binding sites, and assesses overall binding site similarity by the presence of multiple shared microenvironments. The method has relatively weak geometric requirements (to allow for conformational change or dynamics in both the ligand and the pocket) and uses multiple biophysical and biochemical measures to characterize the microenvironments (to allow for diverse modes of ligand binding). We term the algorithm PocketFEATURE, since it focuses on pockets using the FEATURE system for characterizing microenvironments. We validate PocketFEATURE first by showing that it can better discriminate sites that bind similar ligands from those that do not, and by showing that we can recognize FAD-binding sites on a proteome scale with Area Under the Curve (AUC) of 92%. We then apply PocketFEATURE to evolutionarily distant kinases, for which the method recognizes several proven distant relationships, and predicts unexpected shared ligand binding. Using experimental data from ChEMBL and Ambit, we show that at high significance level, 40 kinase pairs are predicted to share ligands. Some of these pairs offer new opportunities for inhibiting two proteins in a single pathway.
Author Summary
Small molecule drugs may interact with many proteins. Some of these interactions may cause unexpected effects, including side effects or potentially useful therapeutic effects. One way to predict these effects is to analyze the three-dimensional structure of target proteins, and identify new binding sites for small molecule drugs. Several methods have been proposed for predicting new binding sites, relying on geometric and functional complementarity of the sites and the small molecules. In this paper, we report on a new method for identifying novel protein-drug interactions by analyzing the similarity between binding sites in proteins. The method has relatively weak geometric requirements and allows for conformational change or dynamics in both the ligand and protein. Our results show that geometric flexibility is useful for effectively comparing sites. We have applied the method to evolutionarily distant kinases, and find unexpected shared inhibitor binding. Our results may be valuable for drug repurposing in order to find novel uses for existing kinase inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3248393  PMID: 22219723
8.  The Free Energy Landscape of Small Molecule Unbinding 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(2):e1002002.
The spontaneous dissociation of six small ligands from the active site of FKBP (the FK506 binding protein) is investigated by explicit water molecular dynamics simulations and network analysis. The ligands have between four (dimethylsulphoxide) and eleven (5-diethylamino-2-pentanone) non-hydrogen atoms, and an affinity for FKBP ranging from 20 to 0.2 mM. The conformations of the FKBP/ligand complex saved along multiple trajectories (50 runs at 310 K for each ligand) are grouped according to a set of intermolecular distances into nodes of a network, and the direct transitions between them are the links. The network analysis reveals that the bound state consists of several subbasins, i.e., binding modes characterized by distinct intermolecular hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic contacts. The dissociation kinetics show a simple (i.e., single-exponential) time dependence because the unbinding barrier is much higher than the barriers between subbasins in the bound state. The unbinding transition state is made up of heterogeneous positions and orientations of the ligand in the FKBP active site, which correspond to multiple pathways of dissociation. For the six small ligands of FKBP, the weaker the binding affinity the closer to the bound state (along the intermolecular distance) are the transition state structures, which is a new manifestation of Hammond behavior. Experimental approaches to the study of fragment binding to proteins have limitations in temporal and spatial resolution. Our network analysis of the unbinding simulations of small inhibitors from an enzyme paints a clear picture of the free energy landscape (both thermodynamics and kinetics) of ligand unbinding.
Author Summary
Most known drugs used to fight human diseases are small molecules that bind strongly to proteins, particularly to enzymes or receptors involved in essential biochemical or physiological processes. The binding process is very complex because of the many degrees of freedom and multiple interactions between pairs of atoms. Here we show that network analysis, a mathematical tool used to study a plethora of complex systems ranging from social interactions (e.g, friendship links in Facebook) to metabolic networks, provides a detailed description of the free energy landscape and pathways involved in the binding of small molecules to an enzyme. Using molecular dynamics simulations to sample the free energy landscape, we provide strong evidence at atomistic detail that small ligands can have multiple favorable positions and orientations in the active site. We also observe a broad heterogeneity of (un)binding pathways. Experimental approaches to the study of fragment binding to proteins have limitations in spatial and temporal resolution. Our network analysis of the molecular dynamics simulations does not suffer from these limitations. It provides a thorough description of the thermodynamics and kinetics of the binding process.
PMCID: PMC3033371  PMID: 21390201
9.  The magic triangle goes MAD: experimental phasing with a bromine derivative 
5-Amino-2,4,6-tribromoisophthalic acid is used as a phasing tool for protein structure determination by MAD phasing. It is the second representative of a novel class of compounds for heavy-atom derivatization that combine heavy atoms with amino and carboxyl groups for binding to proteins.
Experimental phasing is an essential technique for the solution of macromolecular structures. Since many heavy-atom ion soaks suffer from nonspecific binding, a novel class of compounds has been developed that combines heavy atoms with functional groups for binding to proteins. The phasing tool 5-amino-2,4,6-tribromoisophthalic acid (B3C) contains three functional groups (two carboxylate groups and one amino group) that interact with proteins via hydrogen bonds. Three Br atoms suitable for anomalous dispersion phasing are arranged in an equilateral triangle and are thus readily identified in the heavy-atom substructure. B3C was incorporated into proteinase K and a multiwavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) experiment at the Br K edge was successfully carried out. Radiation damage to the bromine–carbon bond was investigated. A comparison with the phasing tool I3C that contains three I atoms for single-wavelength anomalous dispersion (SAD) phasing was also carried out.
PMCID: PMC2852301  PMID: 20382990
multi-wavelength anomalous dispersion; experimental phasing; heavy-atom derivatives
10.  The molecular structure of Rv2074, a probable pyridoxine 5′-phosphate oxidase from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, at 1.6 Å resolution 
The crystal structure of a probable pyridoxine 5′-phosphate oxidase, Rv2074 from M. tuberculosis, has been solved by the two-wavelength anomalous dispersion method and has been refined at 1.6 Å resolution. Two citric acid molecules are bound fortuitously to the possible active site of Rv2074.
The crystal structure of a conserved hypothetical protein corresponding to open reading frame Rv2074 from Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) has been solved by the two-wavelength anomalous dispersion method. Refinement of the molecular structure at 1.6 Å resolution resulted in an R work of 0.178 and an R free of 0.204. The crystal asymmetric unit contains an Rv2074 monomer; however, the crystallographic twofold symmetry operation of space group P43212 generates dimeric Rv2074. Each monomer folds into a six-stranded antiparallel β-barrel flanked by two α-helices. The three-dimensional structure of Rv2074 is very similar to that of Mtb Rv1155, a probable pyridoxine 5′-­phosphate oxidase (PNPOx), which corroborates well with the relatively high sequence similarity (52%) between the two. A structural comparison between Rv2074 and Rv1155 revealed that the core structure (a six-stranded β-barrel) is also well conserved; the major differences between the two lie in the N- and C-­termini and in the small helical domain. Two citric acid molecules were observed in the active site of Rv2074, the crystals of which were grown in 0.2 M sodium citrate buffer pH 5.0. The citric acid molecules are bound to Rv2074 by hydrogen-bonding interactions with Thr55, Gln60 and Lys61. One of the two citric acid molecules occupies the same spatial position that corresponds to the position of the phosphate and ribose sugar moieties of the flavin mononucleotide (FMN) in the Mtb Rv1155–FMN, Escherichia coli PNPOx–FMN and human PNPOx–FMN complex structures. Owing to its extensive structural similarity with Mtb Rv1155 and to the E. coli and human PNPOx enzymes, Rv2074 may be involved in the final step in the biosynthesis of pyridoxal 5′-phosphate (PLP; a vitamin B6).
PMCID: PMC2242915  PMID: 16880544
Mycobacterium tuberculosis; β-barrel; citric acid; pyridoxine 5′-phosphate oxidase
11.  Structure Determination and Biochemical Characterization of a Putative HNH Endonuclease from Geobacter metallireducens GS-15 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e72114.
The crystal structure of a putative HNH endonuclease, Gmet_0936 protein from Geobacter metallireducens GS-15, has been determined at 2.6 Å resolution using single-wavelength anomalous dispersion method. The structure contains a two-stranded anti-parallel β-sheet that are surrounded by two helices on each face, and reveals a Zn ion bound in each monomer, coordinated by residues Cys38, Cys41, Cys73, and Cys76, which likely plays an important structural role in stabilizing the overall conformation. Structural homologs of Gmet_0936 include Hpy99I endonuclease, phage T4 endonuclease VII, and other HNH endonucleases, with these enzymes sharing 15–20% amino acid sequence identity. An overlay of Gmet_0936 and Hpy99I structures shows that most of the secondary structure elements, catalytic residues as well as the zinc binding site (zinc ribbon) are conserved. However, Gmet_0936 lacks the N-terminal domain of Hpy99I, which mediates DNA binding as well as dimerization. Purified Gmet_0936 forms dimers in solution and a dimer of the protein is observed in the crystal, but with a different mode of dimerization as compared to Hpy99I. Gmet_0936 and its N77H variant show a weak DNA binding activity in a DNA mobility shift assay and a weak Mn2+-dependent nicking activity on supercoiled plasmids in low pH buffers. The preferred substrate appears to be acid and heat-treated DNA with AP sites, suggesting Gmet_0936 may be a DNA repair enzyme.
PMCID: PMC3765158  PMID: 24039739
12.  The Structure and Ligand Binding Properties of the B. subtilis YkoF Gene Product, a Member of a Novel Family of Thiamin/HMP-binding Proteins 
Journal of molecular biology  2004;343(2):395-406.
The crystal structure of the Bacillus subtilis YkoF gene product, a protein involved in the hydroxymethyl pyrimidine (HMP) salvage pathway, was solved by the multiwavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) method and refined with data extending to 1.65 Å resolution. The atomic model of the protein shows a homodimeric association of two polypeptide chains, each containing an internal repeat of a ferredoxin-like βαββαβ fold, as seen in the ACT and RAM-domains. Each repeat shows a remarkable similarity to two members of the COG0011 domain family, the MTH1187 and YBL001c proteins, the crystal structures of which were recently solved by the Northeast Structural Genomics Consortium. Two YkoF monomers form a tightly associated dimer, in which the amino acid residues forming the interface are conserved among family members. A putative small-ligand binding site was located within each repeat in a position analogous to the serine-binding site of the ACT-domain of the Escherichia coli phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase. Genetic data suggested that this could be a thiamin or HMP-binding site. Calorimetric data confirmed that YkoF binds two thiamin molecules with varying affinities and a thiamine–YkoF complex was obtained by co-crystallization. The atomic model of the complex was refined using data to 2.3 Å resolution and revealed a unique H-bonding pattern that constitutes the molecular basis of specificity for the HMP moiety of thiamin.
PMCID: PMC2792028  PMID: 15451668
protein structure; macromolecular crystallography; surface engineering; thiamin/HMP binding; ACT/RAM domain family
13.  Visualisation of variable binding pockets on protein surfaces by probabilistic analysis of related structure sets 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13:39.
Protein structures provide a valuable resource for rational drug design. For a protein with no known ligand, computational tools can predict surface pockets that are of suitable size and shape to accommodate a complementary small-molecule drug. However, pocket prediction against single static structures may miss features of pockets that arise from proteins' dynamic behaviour. In particular, ligand-binding conformations can be observed as transiently populated states of the apo protein, so it is possible to gain insight into ligand-bound forms by considering conformational variation in apo proteins. This variation can be explored by considering sets of related structures: computationally generated conformers, solution NMR ensembles, multiple crystal structures, homologues or homology models. It is non-trivial to compare pockets, either from different programs or across sets of structures. For a single structure, difficulties arise in defining particular pocket's boundaries. For a set of conformationally distinct structures the challenge is how to make reasonable comparisons between them given that a perfect structural alignment is not possible.
We have developed a computational method, Provar, that provides a consistent representation of predicted binding pockets across sets of related protein structures. The outputs are probabilities that each atom or residue of the protein borders a predicted pocket. These probabilities can be readily visualised on a protein using existing molecular graphics software. We show how Provar simplifies comparison of the outputs of different pocket prediction algorithms, of pockets across multiple simulated conformations and between homologous structures. We demonstrate the benefits of use of multiple structures for protein-ligand and protein-protein interface analysis on a set of complexes and consider three case studies in detail: i) analysis of a kinase superfamily highlights the conserved occurrence of surface pockets at the active and regulatory sites; ii) a simulated ensemble of unliganded Bcl2 structures reveals extensions of a known ligand-binding pocket not apparent in the apo crystal structure; iii) visualisations of interleukin-2 and its homologues highlight conserved pockets at the known receptor interfaces and regions whose conformation is known to change on inhibitor binding.
Through post-processing of the output of a variety of pocket prediction software, Provar provides a flexible approach to the analysis and visualization of the persistence or variability of pockets in sets of related protein structures.
PMCID: PMC3359218  PMID: 22417279
14.  The linkage between ribosomal crystallography, metal ions, heteropolytungstates and functional flexibility 
Journal of molecular structure  2008;890(1-3):289-294.
Crystallography of ribosomes, the universal cell nucleoprotein assemblies facilitating the translation of the genetic-code into proteins, met with severe problems owing to their large size, complex structure, inherent flexibility and high conformational variability. For the case of the small ribosomal subunit, which caused extreme difficulties, post crystallization treatment by minute amounts of a heteropolytungstate cluster allowed structure determination at atomic resolution. This cluster played a dual role in ribosomal crystallography: providing anomalous phasing power and dramatically increased the resolution, by stabilization of a selected functional conformation. Thus, four out of the fourteen clusters that bind to each of the crystallized small subunits are attached to a specific ribosomal protein in a fashion that may control a significant component of the subunit internal flexibility, by “gluing” symmetrical related subunits. Here we highlight basic issues in the relationship between metal ions and macromolecules and present common traits controlling in the interactions between polymetalates and various macromolecules, which may be extended towards the exploitation of polymetalates for therapeutical treatment.
PMCID: PMC2757297  PMID: 19915655
Ribosome; ribosomal functional flexibility; heteropolytungstates; crystal order; protein S2
15.  Benzimidazole inhibitors of the protein kinase CHK2: Clarification of the binding mode by flexible side chain docking and protein–ligand crystallography 
Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry  2012;20(22):6630-6639.
Graphical abstract
Unconstrained rigid docking, flexible side chain docking and protein crystal structure determinations reveal a water-mediated hinge binding mode for a series of benzimidazole ligands of the protein kinase CHK2. This binding mode is different from those previously postulated in the literature and may provide a useful approach to selective small molecule inhibitor design.
Two closely related binding modes have previously been proposed for the ATP-competitive benzimidazole class of checkpoint kinase 2 (CHK2) inhibitors; however, neither binding mode is entirely consistent with the reported SAR. Unconstrained rigid docking of benzimidazole ligands into representative CHK2 protein crystal structures reveals an alternative binding mode involving a water-mediated interaction with the hinge region; docking which incorporates protein side chain flexibility for selected residues in the ATP binding site resulted in a refinement of the water-mediated hinge binding mode that is consistent with observed SAR. The flexible docking results are in good agreement with the crystal structures of four exemplar benzimidazole ligands bound to CHK2 which unambiguously confirmed the binding mode of these inhibitors, including the water-mediated interaction with the hinge region, and which is significantly different from binding modes previously postulated in the literature.
PMCID: PMC3778940  PMID: 23058106
ADP, adenosine diphosphate; ATM, ataxia telangiectasia mutated; ATP, adenosine triphosphate; CHK2, checkpoint kinase 2; GOLD, genetic optimisation for ligand docking; GST, glutathione S-transferase; KD, kinase domain; MOE, molecular operating environment; PARP, poly ADP-ribose polymerase; PDB, protein data bank; PLIF, protein ligand interaction fingerprints; SAR, structure activity relationship; SIFt, structural interaction fingerprints; Kinase; CHK2; Flexible docking; Crystallography; Inhibitor
16.  Arginine Kinase. Joint Crystallographic & NMR RDC Analyses link Substrate-Associated Motions to Intrinsic Flexibility 
Journal of molecular biology  2010;405(2):479-496.
The phosphagen kinase family, including creatine and arginine kinases, catalyze the reversible transfer of a “high energy” phosphate between ATP and a phospho-guanidino substrate. They have become a model for the study of both substrate-induced conformational change and intrinsic protein dynamics. Prior crystallographic studies indicated large substrate-induced domain rotations, but differences among a recent set of arginine kinase structures was interpreted as a plastic deformation. Here, the structure of Limulus substrate-free arginine kinase is refined against high resolution crystallographic data and compared quantitatively with NMR chemical shifts and residual dipolar couplings (RDCs). This demonstrates the feasibility of this type of RDC analysis of proteins that are large by NMR standards (42 kDa), and illuminates the solution structure, free from crystal-packing constraints. Detailed comparison of the 1.7 Å resolution substrate-free crystal structure against the 1.2 Å transition state analog complex shows large substrate-induced domain motions which can be broken down into movements of smaller quasi-rigid bodies. The solution state structure of substrate-free arginine kinase is most consistent with an equilibrium of substrate-free and –bound structures, with the substrate-free form dominating, but with varying displacements of the quasi-rigid groups. Rigid-group rotations evident from the crystal structures are about axes previously associated with intrinsic millisecond dynamics using NMR relaxation dispersion. Thus, “substrate-induced” motions are along modes that are intrinsically flexible in the substrate-free enzyme, and likely involve some degree of conformational selection.
PMCID: PMC3017626  PMID: 21075117
Induced-fit; Conformational selection; Protein dynamics; Conformational change; Residual Dipolar Coupling; Crystal
17.  The structure at 2.4 Å resolution of the protein from gene locus At3g21360, a putative FeII/2-oxo­glutarate-dependent enzyme from Arabidopsis thaliana  
The crystal structure of the 37.2 kDa At3g21360 gene product from A. thaliana was determined at 2.4 Å resolution. The structure establishes that this protein binds a metal ion and is a member of a clavaminate synthase-like superfamily in A. thaliana.
The crystal structure of the gene product of At3g21360 from Arabidopsis thaliana was determined by the single-wavelength anomalous dispersion method and refined to an R factor of 19.3% (R free = 24.1%) at 2.4 Å resolution. The crystal structure includes two monomers in the asymmetric unit that differ in the conformation of a flexible domain that spans residues 178–230. The crystal structure confirmed that At3g21360 encodes a protein belonging to the clavaminate synthase-like superfamily of iron(II) and 2-oxoglutarate-dependent enzymes. The metal-binding site was defined and is similar to the iron(II) binding sites found in other members of the superfamily.
PMCID: PMC1952295  PMID: 16511070
18.  Crystal structures of murine angiogenin-2 and -3 – probing ‘structure – function’ relationships amongst angiogenin homologues 
The Febs Journal  2012;280(1):302-318.
Angiogenin (Ang) is a potent inducer of neovascularization. Point mutations in human Ang have been linked to cancer progression and two neurodegenerative diseases: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. Intensive structural and functional analyses of Ang have been paramount in assigning functions to this novel homologue of bovine pancreatic RNase A. However, inhibitor-binding studies with crystalline Ang (for designing potential anti-cancer drugs) have been hampered as a result of the inaccessibility of the active site. Experiments with the murine homologues of Ang have not only overcome the obvious practical limitations encountered when studying the role of a human protein in healthy individuals, but also the crystal structures of murine angiogenins (mAng and mAng-4) have revealed themselves to have greater potential for the visualization of small-molecule inhibitor binding at the active site. In the present study, we report the crystal structures of two more murine Ang paralogues, mAng-2 and mAng-3, at 1.6 and 1.8 Å resolution, respectively. These constitute the first crystal structures of an Ang with a zinc ion bound at the active site and provide some insight into the possible mode of inhibition of the ribonucleolytic activity of the enzyme by these divalent cations. Both structures show that the residues forming the putative P1, B1 and B2 subsites occupy positions similar to their counterparts in human Ang and are likely to have conserved roles. However, a less obtrusive conformation of the C-terminal segment in mAng-3 and the presence of a sulfate ion in the B1 subsite of mAng-2 suggest that these proteins have the potential to be used for inhibitor-binding studies. We also discuss the biological relevance of the structural similarities and differences between the different Ang homologues.
The atomic coordinates and structure factors for mAng-2 (3ZBV) and mAng-3 (3ZBW) have been deposited in the Protein Data Bank, Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA (
Structured digital abstract
mAng2 and mAng3 bind by x-ray crystallography (View interaction)
PMCID: PMC3572582  PMID: 23170778
angiogenin; crystal structure; enzyme mechanism; metal-ion binding; ribonuclease A
19.  Free-energy Landscapes of Ion-channel Gating Are Malleable: changes in the number of bound ligands are accompanied by changes in the location of the transition state in acetylcholine-receptor channels† 
Biochemistry  2003;42(50):14977-14987.
Acetylcholine-receptor channels (AChRs) are allosteric membrane proteins that mediate synaptic transmission by alternatively opening and closing (‘gating’) a cation-selective transmembrane pore. Although ligand binding is not required for the channel to open, the binding of agonists (for example, acetylcholine) increases the closed ⇌ open equilibrium constant because the ion-impermeable → ion-permeable transition of the ion pathway is accompanied by a low → high affinity change at the agonist-binding sites. The fact that the gating conformational change of muscle AChRs can be kinetically modeled as a two-state reaction has paved the way to the experimental characterization of the corresponding transition state, which represents a snapshot of the continuous sequence of molecular events separating the closed and open states. Previous studies of fully (di-) liganded AChRs, combining single-channel kinetic measurements, site-directed mutagenesis, and data analysis in the framework of the linear free-energy relationships of physical organic chemistry, have suggested a transition-state structure that is consistent with channel opening being an asynchronous conformational change that starts at the extracellular agonist-binding sites and propagates towards the intracellular end of the pore. In this paper, I characterize the gating transition state of unliganded AChRs, and report a remarkable difference: unlike that of diliganded gating, the unliganded transition state is not a hybrid of the closed- and open-state structures but, rather, is almost indistinguishable from the open state itself. This displacement of the transition state along the reaction coordinate obscures the mechanism underlying the unliganded closed ⇌ open reaction but brings to light the malleable nature of free-energy landscapes of ion-channel gating.
The muscle acetylcholine receptor channel (AChR)1 is the neurotransmitter-gated ion channel that mediates neuromuscular synaptic transmission in vertebrates (1). Although the structure of this large pentameric transmembrane protein (∼470 residues per subunit) is not known with atomic resolution, a wealth of structural information exists, mainly from mutational studies, affinity labeling, chemical modification of specific residues, electron microscopy, and crystallography (reviewed in ref. 2). As is the case of any other allosteric protein, the dynamic behavior of this receptor-channel can be understood in the framework of thermodynamic cycles, with conformational changes and ligand-binding events as the elementary steps (3-5). Thus, the AChR can adopt a variety of different conformations that can interconvert (closed, open, and desensitized ‘states’), and each conformation has a distinct ligand-binding affinity (low affinity in the closed state and high affinity in the open and desensitized states) and a particular ‘catalytic efficiency’ (ion-impermeable in the closed and desensitized states, and ion-permeable in the open state). To meet the physiological requirement of a small closed ⇌ open (‘gating’) equilibrium constant for the unliganded receptor, and a large gating equilibrium constant for the ACh-diliganded receptor, the affinity of the AChR for ACh must be higher in the open than in the closed conformation (4-6). This follows from the notion that the equilibrium constants governing the different reaction steps (ligand binding and gating) of these cyclic reaction schemes are constrained by the principle of detailed balance.
Hence, irrespective of whether the receptor is diliganded, monoliganded or unliganded, two changes must take place in going from the closed state (low ligand affinity and ion-impermeable) to the open state (high ligand affinity and ion-permeable): a) the pore becomes permeable to ions, and b) the transmitter-binding sites, some 50 Å away from the pore domain (7), increase their affinity for the ligand (with the reverse changes taking place during closing). The apparent lack of stable intermediates between the closed and open conformations, inferred from kinetic modeling of the diliganded-gating reaction (8), suggests that these two changes occur as a result of a one-step, global conformational change. The question, then, arises as to whether this concerted conformational change proceeds synchronously (i.e., every residue of the protein moves ‘in unison’) or asynchronously (i.e., following a sequence of events; ref. 9) and, if the latter were the case, whether multiple, few, or just one sequence of events is actually traversed by the channel to ‘connect’ the end states.
Analysis of the correlation between rate and equilibrium constants of gating in diliganded AChRs has allowed us to address some of these issues by probing the structure of the transition state (8, 10-12), that is, the intermediate species between the end states of a one-step reaction that can be most easily studied. Interpretation of these results in the framework of the classical rate-equilibrium free-energy relationships of physical organic chemistry (13, 14), revealed that AChR diliganded gating is a highly asynchronous reaction, and suggested that the transition-state ensemble is quite homogeneous, as if the crossing of the energy barrier were confined to a narrow pass at the top of the energy landscape. In the opening direction, the conformational rearrangement that leads to the low-to-high affinity change at the extracellular binding sites precedes the conformational rearrangement of the pore that renders the channel ion-permeable. This propagated global conformational change, which we have referred to as a ‘conformational wave’ (11), must reverse during channel closing so that closing starts at the pore and propagates all the way to the binding sites.
It is not at all obvious why the diliganded-gating conformational change starts at the binding sites when the channel opens, nor even why the conformational change propagates at all through the receptor, instead of taking place synchronously throughout the protein. Is there any correlation between the location of the domain that binds agonist and the location of the initiation site for the opening conformational change? Could the latter have started from the intracellular end of the pore, for example, and have propagated to the (extracellular) transmitter-binding sites? What difference does it make to be liganded or unliganded as far as the mechanism of the gating conformational change is concerned? To address these issues, I set out to explore the mechanism of gating in unliganded AChRs by probing the structure of the corresponding transition state using kinetic measurements, site-directed mutagenesis, and the concepts of rate-equilibrium free-energy relationships and Φ-value analysis.
Briefly, a Φ-value can be assigned to any position in the protein by estimating the slope of a ‘Brönsted plot’2 [log (gating rate constant) versus log (gating equilibrium constant)] where each point corresponds to a different amino-acid substitution at that given position. More coarsegrained Φ-values can also be obtained by using different agonists or different transmembrane potentials, for example, as a means of altering the rate and equilibrium constants of gating. Very often, rate-equilibrium plots are linear, and 0 < Φ < 1. A value of Φ = 0 suggests that the position in question (in the case of a mutation series) experiences a closed-state-like environment at the transition state whereas a value of Φ = 1 suggests an open-state-like environment. A fractional Φ-value suggests an environment that is intermediate between those experienced in the closed and open states (16).
Earlier results indicated that the Φ-values obtained by varying the transmembrane potential are different in diliganded and unliganded AChRs. These Φ-values, which are a measure of the closed-state-like versus open-state-like character of the channel’s voltage-sensing elements at the transition state, are 0.070 ± 0.060 in diliganded receptors (17), and 1.025 ± 0.053 in unliganded AChRs (11, 18). The present study reveals that residues at the transmitter-binding sites (Figure 1), the extracellular loop that links the second (M2) and third (M3) transmembrane segments (M2-M3 linker), and the upper and lower half of M2, which during diliganded gating have Φ-values of ∼1 (ref. 11), ∼0.7 (ref. 10), ∼0.35 (refs 8, 11, 12), and ∼0 (ref. 12), respectively, have also Φ-values very close to 1 during unliganded gating. This generalized shift in Φ-values suggests that the diliganded → unliganded perturbation deforms the energy landscape of gating in such a way that the ‘new’ transition state occurs very close to the open state, to such an extent that all tested positions experience an open-state-like environment at the transition state of unliganded gating. Thus, the transition state occurs so ‘late’ (i.e., so close to the open state) that its inferred structure does not provide any clues as to the intermediate stages of this reaction.
Hence, the mechanism of unliganded gating remains obscure. The change in the position of the transition state along a reaction coordinate, as a result of perturbations to the energy landscape, is a very well known phenomenon in organic chemistry (e.g., refs 20-26), and protein folding (e.g., refs 27-34). In this paper, I show that this phenomenon can also take place in the case of allosteric transitions and, therefore, that the structure of the transition state of a global conformational change need not be fixed; rather, it can change depending on the experimental conditions.
PMCID: PMC1463891  PMID: 14674774
20.  Robust structural analysis of native biological macromolecules from multi-crystal anomalous diffraction data 
Anomalous diffraction signals from typical native macromolecules are very weak, frustrating their use in structure determination. Here, native SAD procedures are described for enhancing the signal to noise in anomalous diffraction by using multiple crystals are described. Five applications demonstrate that truly routine structure determination is possible without the need for heavy atoms.
Structure determinations for biological macromolecules that have no known structural antecedents typically involve the incorporation of heavier atoms than those found natively in biological molecules. Currently, selenomethionyl proteins analyzed using single- or multi-wavelength anomalous diffraction (SAD or MAD) data predominate for such de novo analyses. Naturally occurring metal ions such as zinc or iron often suffice in MAD or SAD experiments, and sulfur SAD has been an option since it was first demonstrated using crambin 30 years ago; however, SAD analyses of structures containing only light atoms (Z max ≤ 20) have not been common. Here, robust procedures for enhancing the signal to noise in measurements of anomalous diffraction by combining data collected from several crystals at a lower than usual X-ray energy are described. This multi-crystal native SAD method was applied in five structure determinations, using between five and 13 crystals to determine substructures of between four and 52 anomalous scatterers (Z ≤ 20) and then the full structures ranging from 127 to 1200 ordered residues per asymmetric unit at resolutions from 2.3 to 2.8 Å. Tests were devised to assure that all of the crystals used were statistically equivalent. Elemental identities for Ca, Cl, S, P and Mg were proven by f′′ scattering-factor refinements. The procedures are robust, indicating that truly routine structure determination of typical native macromolecules is realised. Synchrotron beamlines that are optimized for low-energy X-ray diffraction measurements will facilitate such direct structural analysis.
PMCID: PMC3689535  PMID: 23793158
anomalous scattering; multiple crystals; phase determination; sulfur SAD
21.  Accurate calculation of mutational effects on the thermodynamics of inhibitor binding to p38α MAP kinase: a combined computational and experimental study 
A major current challenge for drug design efforts focused on protein kinases is the development of drug resistance caused by spontaneous mutations in the kinase catalytic domain. The ubiquity of this problem means that it would be advantageous to develop fast, effective computational methods that could be used to determine the effects of potential resistance-causing mutations before they arise in a clinical setting. With this long-term goal in mind, we have conducted a combined experimental and computational study of the thermodynamic effects of active-site mutations on a well-characterized and high-affinity interaction between a protein kinase and a small-molecule inhibitor. Specifically, we developed a fluorescence-based assay to measure the binding free energy of the small-molecule inhibitor, SB203580, to the p38α MAP kinase and used it measure the inhibitor's affinity for five different kinase mutants involving two residues (Val38 and Ala51) that contact the inhibitor in the crystal structure of the inhibitor-kinase complex. We then conducted long, explicit-solvent thermodynamic integration (TI) simulations in an attempt to reproduce the experimental relative binding affinities of the inhibitor for the five mutants; in total, a combined simulation time of 18.5 μs was obtained. Two widely used force fields – OPLS-AA/L and Amber ff99SB-ILDN – were tested in the TI simulations. Both force fields produced excellent agreement with experiment for three of the five mutants; simulations performed with the OPLS-AA/L force field, however, produced qualitatively incorrect results for the constructs that contained an A51V mutation. Interestingly, the discrepancies with the OPLS-AA/L force field could be rectified by the imposition of position restraints on the atoms of the protein backbone and the inhibitor without destroying the agreement for other mutations; the ability to reproduce experiment depended, however, upon the strength of the restraints’ force constant. Imposition of position restraints in corresponding simulations that used the Amber ff99SB-ILDN force field had little effect on their ability to match experiment. Overall, the study shows that both force fields can work well for predicting the effects of active-site mutations on small molecule binding affinities and demonstrates how a direct combination of experiment and computation can be a powerful strategy for developing an understanding of protein-inhibitor interactions.
PMCID: PMC3731164  PMID: 23914145
22.  Targeting Acetylcholinesterase: Identification of Chemical Leads by High Throughput Screening, Structure Determination and Molecular Modeling 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e26039.
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is an essential enzyme that terminates cholinergic transmission by rapid hydrolysis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Compounds inhibiting this enzyme can be used (inter alia) to treat cholinergic deficiencies (e.g. in Alzheimer's disease), but may also act as dangerous toxins (e.g. nerve agents such as sarin). Treatment of nerve agent poisoning involves use of antidotes, small molecules capable of reactivating AChE. We have screened a collection of organic molecules to assess their ability to inhibit the enzymatic activity of AChE, aiming to find lead compounds for further optimization leading to drugs with increased efficacy and/or decreased side effects. 124 inhibitors were discovered, with considerable chemical diversity regarding size, polarity, flexibility and charge distribution. An extensive structure determination campaign resulted in a set of crystal structures of protein-ligand complexes. Overall, the ligands have substantial interactions with the peripheral anionic site of AChE, and the majority form additional interactions with the catalytic site (CAS). Reproduction of the bioactive conformation of six of the ligands using molecular docking simulations required modification of the default parameter settings of the docking software. The results show that docking-assisted structure-based design of AChE inhibitors is challenging and requires crystallographic support to obtain reliable results, at least with currently available software. The complex formed between C5685 and Mus musculus AChE (C5685•mAChE) is a representative structure for the general binding mode of the determined structures. The CAS binding part of C5685 could not be structurally determined due to a disordered electron density map and the developed docking protocol was used to predict the binding modes of this part of the molecule. We believe that chemical modifications of our discovered inhibitors, biochemical and biophysical characterization, crystallography and computational chemistry provide a route to novel AChE inhibitors and reactivators.
PMCID: PMC3227566  PMID: 22140425
23.  Role of a Novel PH-Kinase Domain Interface in PKB/Akt Regulation: Structural Mechanism for Allosteric Inhibition 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(1):e1000017.
Protein kinase B (PKB/Akt) belongs to the AGC superfamily of related serine/threonine protein kinases. It is a key regulator downstream of various growth factors and hormones and is involved in malignant transformation and chemo-resistance. Full-length PKB protein has not been crystallised, thus studying the molecular mechanisms that are involved in its regulation in relation to its structure have not been simple. Recently, the dynamics between the inactive and active conformer at the molecular level have been described. The maintenance of PKB's inactive state via the interaction of the PH and kinase domains prevents its activation loop to be phosphorylated by its upstream activator, phosphoinositide-dependent protein kinase-1 (PDK1). By using a multidisciplinary approach including molecular modelling, classical biochemical assays, and Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)/two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM), a detailed model depicting the interaction between the different domains of PKB in its inactive conformation was demonstrated. These findings in turn clarified the molecular mechanism of PKB inhibition by AKT inhibitor VIII (a specific allosteric inhibitor) and illustrated at the molecular level its selectivity towards different PKB isoforms. Furthermore, these findings allude to the possible function of the C-terminus in sustaining the inactive conformer of PKB. This study presents essential insights into the quaternary structure of PKB in its inactive conformation. An understanding of PKB structure in relation to its function is critical for elucidating its mode of activation and discovering how to modulate its activity. The molecular mechanism of inhibition of PKB activation by the specific drug AKT inhibitor VIII has critical implications for determining the mechanism of inhibition of other allosteric inhibitors and for opening up opportunities for the design of new generations of modulator drugs.
Author Summary
A critical protein in cell-signalling pathways, called protein kinase B, regulates many aspects of cell biology from metabolism to proliferation and survival, by modifying other proteins with the addition of a phosphate group. Hence, deregulation of its activity has acute consequences on cell function. Increased activity of a tumour-promoting form of protein kinase B or of upstream regulatory proteins has been observed in tumours, while impaired protein kinase B function has been linked to diabetes. Therefore, understanding the molecular mechanism of protein kinase B activation will help reveal how its activity might be regulated to limit disease progression. Toward this end, we studied how protein kinase B structure relates to its function, to identify molecular mechanisms regulating its kinase activity, modifying its cellular localization, and altering its binding to other proteins. By determining the spatial organization of different regions of the protein in inactive protein kinase B, we discovered a cavity at the interface of two distinct functional regions of the inactive form. We also localized the C-terminal end of the protein to the apex of the cavity, suggesting a role of this domain in regulating the inactive form of the protein. This represents a novel example of negative regulation by inhibition across these different regions of the protein. From these findings, we elucidated the mechanism of action of a highly specific protein kinase B inhibitor, AKT inhibitor VIII. We determined that simultaneous binding of the inhibitor to the two different functional regions, through the cavity, “locks” protein kinase B in an inactive conformation and prevents regulatory proteins from accessing the C-terminal domain.
The mechanism of inhibition of the activity of the tumor-promoter protein kinase B operates via interactions across its functional domains.
PMCID: PMC2628406  PMID: 19166270
24.  Structure determination of an FMN reductase from Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA01 using sulfur anomalous signal 
The availability of high-intensity synchrotron facilities, technological advances in data-collection techniques and improved data-reduction and crystallographic software have ushered in a new era in high-throughput macromolecular crystallography. Here, the de novo automated crystal structure determination at 1.28 Å resolution of an NAD(P)H-dependent FMN reductase flavoprotein from Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA01-derived protein Q9I4D4 using the anomalous signal from an unusually small number of S atoms is reported. Although this protein lacks the flavodoxin key fingerprint motif [(T/S)XTGXT], it has been confirmed to bind flavin mononucleotide and the binding site was identified via X-ray crystallography. This protein contains a novel flavin mononucleotide-binding site GSLRSGSYN, which has not been previously reported. Detailed statistics pertaining to sulfur phasing and other factors contributing to structure determination are discussed. Structural comparisons of the apoenzyme and the protein complexed with flavin mononucleotide show conformational changes on cofactor binding. NADPH-dependent activity has been confirmed with biochemical assays.
PMCID: PMC1431508  PMID: 16552139
25.  Computational Analysis of the Binding Specificity of Gleevec to Abl, c-Kit, Lck, and c-Src Tyrosine Kinases 
Journal of the American Chemical Society  2013;135(39):14741-14753.
Gleevec, a well-known cancer therapeutic agent, is an effective inhibitor of several tyrosine kinases, including Abl and c-Kit. But it displays less potency to inhibit closely homologous tyrosine kinases, such as Lck and c-Src. Because many structural features of the binding site are highly conserved in these highly homologous kinases, the molecular determinants responsible for the binding specificity of Gleevec remain poorly understood. To address this issue, free energy perturbation molecular dynamics (FEP/MD) simulations with explicit solvent was used to compute the binding affinity of Gleevec to Abl, c-Kit, Lck, and c-Src. The results of the FEP/MD calculations are in good agreement with experiments, enabling a detailed and quantitative dissection of the absolute binding free energy in terms of various thermodynamic contributions affecting the binding specificity of Gleevec to the kinases. Dominant binding free energy contributions arises from the van der Waals dispersive interaction, compensating about two-third of the unfavorable free energy penalty associated with the loss of translational, rotational, and conformational freedom of the ligand upon binding. In contrast, the contributions from electrostatic and repulsive interactions nearly cancel out due to solvent effects. Furthermore, the calculations show the importance of the conformation of the activation loop. Among the kinases examined, Abl provides the most favorable binding environment for Gleevec via optimal protein-ligand interactions and a small free energy cost for loss of the translational, rotational, and conformational freedom upon ligand binding. The FEP/MD calculations additionally reveal that Lck and c-Src provide similar non-binding interactions with the bound-Gleevec, but the former pays less entropic penalty for the ligand losing its translational, rotational, and conformational motions to bind, examining the empirically observed differential binding affinities of Gleevec between the two Src-family kinases.
PMCID: PMC4026022  PMID: 24001034

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