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1.  Celastrol inhibits Plasmodium falciparum enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase 
Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry  2014;22(21):6053-6061.
Enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase (ENR), a critical enzyme in type II fatty acid biosynthesis, is a promising target for drug discovery against hepatocyte-stage Plasmodium falciparum. In order to identify PfENR-specific inhibitors, we docked 70 FDA-approved, bioactive, and/or natural product small molecules known to inhibit the growth of whole-cell blood-stage P. falciparum into several PfENR crystallographic structures. Subsequent in vitro activity assays identified a noncompetitive low-micromolar PfENR inhibitor, celastrol, from this set of compounds.
Graphical Abstract
PMCID: PMC4807855  PMID: 25284249
malaria; Plasmodium falciparum; enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase; in silico; celastrol
2.  Improved cryoEM-Guided Iterative Molecular Dynamics–Rosetta Protein Structure Refinement Protocol for High Precision Protein Structure Prediction 
Many excellent methods exist that incorporate cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) data to constrain computational protein structure prediction and refinement. Previously, it was shown that iteration of two such orthogonal sampling and scoring methods – Rosetta and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations – facilitated exploration of conformational space in principle. Here, we go beyond a proof-of-concept study and address significant remaining limitations of the iterative MD–Rosetta protein structure refinement protocol. Specifically, all parts of the iterative refinement protocol are now guided by medium-resolution cryoEM density maps, and previous knowledge about the native structure of the protein is no longer necessary. Models are identified solely based on score or simulation time. All four benchmark proteins showed substantial improvement through three rounds of the iterative refinement protocol. The best-scoring final models of two proteins had sub-Ångstrom RMSD to the native structure over residues in secondary structure elements. Molecular dynamics was most efficient in refining secondary structure elements and was thus highly complementary to the Rosetta refinement which is most powerful in refining side chains and loop regions.
PMCID: PMC4393324  PMID: 25883538
3.  Computer-aided drug discovery approach finds calcium sensitizer of cardiac troponin 
Chemical biology & drug design  2014;85(2):99-106.
In the fight against heart failure, therapeutics that have the ability to increase the contractile power of the heart are urgently needed. One possible route of action to improve heart contractile power is increasing the calcium sensitivity of the thin filament. From a pharmaceutical standpoint, calcium sensitizers have the distinct advantage of not altering cardiomyocyte calcium levels and thus have lower potential for side effects. Small chemical molecules have been shown to bind to the interface between cTnC and the cTnI switch peptide and exhibit calcium sensitizing properties, possibly by stabilizing cTnC in an open conformation. Building on existing structural data of a known calcium sensitizer bound to cardiac troponin, we combined computational structure-based virtual screening drug discovery methods and solution NMR titration assays to identify a novel calcium sensitizer 4-(4-(2,5-dimethylphenyl)-1-piperazinyl)-3-pyridinamine (NSC147866) which binds to cTnC and the cTnC-cTnI147-163 complex. Its presence increases the affinity of switch peptide to cTnC by approximately a factor of two. This action is comparable to that of known levosimendan analogues.
Graphical abstract
In the fight against heart failure, therapeutics that increase the calcium sensitivity of the thin filament are a promising option to improve heart contractile power. Here, we combined computational drug discovery methods and solution NMR titration assays to identify a novel calcium sensitizer which binds to cTnC and the cTnC-cTnI147-163 complex. Its presence increases the affinity of switch peptide to cTnC by approximately a factor of two, making its action comparable to that of known levosimendan analogues.
PMCID: PMC4456024  PMID: 24954187
4.  Identification of Protein–Ligand Binding Sites by the Level-Set Variational Implicit-Solvent Approach 
Protein–ligand binding is a key biological process at the molecular level. The identification and characterization of small-molecule binding sites on therapeutically relevant proteins have tremendous implications for target evaluation and rational drug design. In this work, we used the recently developed level-set variational implicit-solvent model (VISM) with the Coulomb field approximation (CFA) to locate and characterize potential protein–small-molecule binding sites. We applied our method to a data set of 515 protein–ligand complexes and found that 96.9% of the cocrystallized ligands bind to the VISM-CFA-identified pockets and that 71.8% of the identified pockets are occupied by cocrystallized ligands. For 228 tight-binding protein–ligand complexes (i.e, complexes with experimental pKd values larger than 6), 99.1% of the cocrystallized ligands are in the VISM-CFA-identified pockets. In addition, it was found that the ligand binding orientations are consistent with the hydrophilic and hydrophobic descriptions provided by VISM. Quantitative characterization of binding pockets with topological and physicochemical parameters was used to assess the “ligandability” of the pockets. The results illustrate the key interactions between ligands and receptors and can be very informative for rational drug design.
PMCID: PMC4410907  PMID: 25941465
5.  In silico Screening for Plasmodium falciparum Enoyl-ACP Reductase inhibitors 
The need for novel therapeutics against Plasmodium falciparum is urgent due to recent emergence of multi-drug resistant malaria parasites. Since fatty acids are essential for both the liver and blood stages of the malarial parasite, targeting fatty acid biosynthesis is a promising strategy for combatting P. falciparum. We present a combined computational and experimental study to identify novel inhibitors of enoyl-acyl carrier protein reductase (PfENR) in the fatty acid biosynthesis pathway. A small-molecule database from ChemBridge was docked into three distinct PfENR crystal structures that provide multiple receptor conformations. Two different docking algorithms were used to generate a consensus score in order to rank possible small molecule hits. Our studies led to the identification of five low-micromolar pyrimidine dione inhibitors of PfENR.
PMCID: PMC4278936  PMID: 25344312
6.  Poisson–Boltzmann versus Size-Modified Poisson–Boltzmann Electrostatics Applied to Lipid Bilayers 
The Journal of Physical Chemistry. B  2014;118(51):14827-14832.
Mean-field methods, such as the Poisson–Boltzmann equation (PBE), are often used to calculate the electrostatic properties of molecular systems. In the past two decades, an enhancement of the PBE, the size-modified Poisson–Boltzmann equation (SMPBE), has been reported. Here, the PBE and the SMPBE are reevaluated for realistic molecular systems, namely, lipid bilayers, under eight different sets of input parameters. The SMPBE appears to reproduce the molecular dynamics simulation results better than the PBE only under specific parameter sets, but in general, it performs no better than the Stern layer correction of the PBE. These results emphasize the need for careful discussions of the accuracy of mean-field calculations on realistic systems with respect to the choice of parameters and call for reconsideration of the cost-efficiency and the significance of the current SMPBE formulation.
PMCID: PMC4280115  PMID: 25426875
7.  Protocols Utilizing Constant pH Molecular Dynamics to Compute pH-Dependent Binding Free Energies 
In protein–ligand binding, the electrostatic environments of the two binding partners may vary significantly in bound and unbound states, which may lead to protonation changes upon binding. In cases where ligand binding results in a net uptake or release of protons, the free energy of binding is pH-dependent. Nevertheless, conventional free energy calculations and molecular docking protocols typically do not rigorously account for changes in protonation that may occur upon ligand binding. To address these shortcomings, we present a simple methodology based on Wyman’s binding polynomial formalism to account for the pH dependence of binding free energies and demonstrate its use on cucurbit[7]uril (CB[7]) host–guest systems. Using constant pH molecular dynamics and a reference binding free energy that is taken either from experiment or from thermodynamic integration computations, the pH-dependent binding free energy is determined. This computational protocol accurately captures the large pKa shifts observed experimentally upon CB[7]:guest association and reproduces experimental binding free energies at different levels of pH. We show that incorrect assignment of fixed protonation states in free energy computations can give errors of >2 kcal/mol in these host–guest systems. Use of the methods presented here avoids such errors, thus suggesting their utility in computing proton-linked binding free energies for protein–ligand complexes.
PMCID: PMC4306499  PMID: 25134690
8.  Use of Broken-Symmetry Density Functional Theory To Characterize the IspH Oxidized State: Implications for IspH Mechanism and Inhibition 
With current therapies becoming less efficacious due to increased drug resistance, new inhibitors of both bacterial and malarial targets are desperately needed. The recently discovered methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway for isoprenoid synthesis provides novel targets for the development of such drugs. Particular attention has focused on the IspH protein, the final enzyme in the MEP pathway, which uses its [4Fe–4S] cluster to catalyze the formation of the isoprenoid precursors IPP and DMAPP from HMBPP. IspH catalysis is achieved via a 2e–/2H+ reductive dehydroxylation of HMBPP; the mechanism by which catalysis is achieved, however, is highly controversial. The work presented herein provides the first step in assessing different routes to catalysis by using computational methods. By performing broken-symmetry density functional theory (BS–DFT) calculations that employ both the conductor-like screening solvation model (DFT/COSMO) and a finite-difference Poisson–Boltzmann self-consistent reaction field methodology (DFT/SCRF), we evaluate geometries, energies, and Mössbauer signatures of the different protonation states that may exist in the oxidized state of the IspH catalytic cycle. From DFT/SCRF computations performed on the oxidized state, we find a state where the substrate, HMBPP, coordinates the apical iron in the [4Fe–4S] cluster as an alcohol group (ROH) to be one of two, isoenergetic, lowest-energy states. In this state, the HMBPP pyrophosphate moiety and an adjacent glutamate residue (E126) are both fully deprotonated, making the active site highly anionic. Our findings that this low-energy state also matches the experimental geometry of the active site and that its computed isomer shifts agree with experiment validate the use of the DFT/SCRF method to assess relative energies along the IspH reaction pathway. Additional studies of IspH catalytic intermediates are currently being pursued.
PMCID: PMC4159220  PMID: 25221444
9.  Exploring the Influence of the Protein Environment on Metal-Binding Pharmacophores 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2014;57(16):7126-7135.
The binding of a series of metal-binding pharmacophores (MBPs) related to the ligand 1-hydroxypyridine-2-(1H)-thione (1,2-HOPTO) in the active site of human carbonic anhydrase II (hCAII) has been investigated. The presence and/or position of a single methyl substituent drastically alters inhibitor potency and can result in coordination modes not observed in small-molecule model complexes. It is shown that this unexpected binding mode is the result of a steric clash between the methyl group and a highly ordered water network in the active site that is further stabilized by the formation of a hydrogen bond and favorable hydrophobic contacts. The affinity of MBPs is dependent on a large number of factors including donor atom identity, orientation, electrostatics, and van der Waals interactions. These results suggest that metal coordination by metalloenzyme inhibitors is a malleable interaction and that it is thus more appropriate to consider the metal-binding motif of these inhibitors as a pharmacophore rather than a “chelator”. The rational design of inhibitors targeting metalloenzymes will benefit greatly from a deeper understanding of the interplay between the variety of forces governing the binding of MBPs to active site metal ions.
PMCID: PMC4148168  PMID: 25116076
10.  Exploring the Role of Receptor Flexibility in Structure-Based Drug Discovery 
Biophysical chemistry  2013;186:31-45.
The proper understanding of biomolecular recognition mechanisms that take place in a drug target is of paramount importance to improve the efficiency of drug discovery and development. The intrinsic dynamic character of proteins has a strong influence on biomolecular recognition mechanisms and models such as conformational selection have been widely used to account for this dynamic association process. However, conformational changes occurring in the receptor prior and upon association with other molecules are diverse and not obvious to predict when only a few structures of the receptor are available. In view of the prominent role of protein flexibility in ligand binding and its implications for drug discovery, it is of great interest to identify receptor conformations that play a major role in biomolecular recognition before starting rational drug design efforts. In this review, we discuss a number of recent advances in computer-aided drug discovery techniques that have been proposed to incorporate receptor flexibility into structure-based drug design. The allowance for receptor flexibility provided by computational techniques such as molecular dynamics simulations or enhanced sampling techniques helps to improve the accuracy of methods used to estimate binding affinities and, thus, such methods can contribute to the discovery of novel drug leads.
PMCID: PMC4459653  PMID: 24332165
Conformational Selection; Allostery; Molecular Dynamics; Receptor Flexibility; Computer-aided Drug Design; Accelerated Molecular Dynamics
11.  Drug screening strategy for human membrane proteins: from NMR protein backbone structure to in silica- and NMR-screened hits 
About 8,000 genes encode membrane proteins in the human genome. The information about their druggability will be very useful to facilitate drug discovery and development. The main problem, however, consists of limited structural and functional information about these proteins because they are difficult to produce biochemically and to study. In this paper we describe the strategy that combines Cell-free protein expression, NMR spectroscopy, and molecular DYnamics simulation (CNDY) techniques. Results of a pilot CNDY experiment provide us with a guiding light towards expedited identification of the hit compounds against a new uncharacterized membrane protein as a potentially druggable target. These hits can then be further characterized and optimized to develop the initial lead compound quicker. We illustrate such “omics” approach for drug discovery with the CNDY strategy applied to two example proteins: hypoxia-induced genes HIGD1A and HIGD1B.
PMCID: PMC4457379  PMID: 24525125
human membrane proteins; NMR screening; molecular dynamics; computational docking
12.  Trapping the dynamic acyl carrier protein in fatty acid biosynthesis 
Nature  2013;505(7483):427-431.
Acyl carrier protein (ACP) transports the growing fatty acid chain between enzyme domains of fatty acid synthase (FAS) during biosynthesis.1 Because FAS enzymes operate upon ACP-bound acyl groups, ACP must stabilize and transport the growing lipid chain.2 The transient nature of ACP-enzyme interactions imposes a major obstacle to gaining high-resolution structural information about fatty acid biosynthesis, and a new strategy is required to properly study protein-protein interactions. In this work, we describe the application of a mechanism-based probe that allows site-selective covalent crosslinking of AcpP to FabA, the E. coli ACP and fatty acid 3-hydroxyacyl-ACP dehydratase. We report the 1.9 Å crystal structure of the crosslinked AcpP=FabA complex as a homo-dimer, in which AcpP exhibits two different conformations likely representing snapshots of ACP in action: the 4′-phosphopantetheine (PPant) group of AcpP first binds an arginine-rich groove of FabA, followed by an AcpP helical conformational change that locks the AcpP and FabA in place. Residues at the interface of AcpP and FabA are identified and validated by solution NMR techniques, including chemical shift perturbations and RDC measurements. These not only support our interpretation of the crystal structures but also provide an animated view of ACP in action during fatty acid dehydration. Combined with molecular dynamics simulations, we show for the first time that FabA extrudes the sequestered acyl chain from the ACP binding pocket before dehydration by repositioning helix III. Extensive sequence conservation among carrier proteins suggests that the mechanistic insights gleaned from our studies will prove general for fatty acid, polyketide and non-ribosomal biosyntheses. Here the foundation is laid for defining the dynamic action of carrier protein activity in primary and secondary metabolism, providing insight into pathways that can play major roles in the treatment of cancer, obesity and infectious disease.
PMCID: PMC4437705  PMID: 24362570
13.  Undecaprenyl Diphosphate Synthase Inhibitors: Antibacterial Drug Leads 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2014;57(13):5693-5701.
There is a significant need for new antibiotics due to the rise in drug resistance. Drugs such as methicillin and vancomycin target bacterial cell wall biosynthesis, but methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) have now arisen and are of major concern. Inhibitors acting on new targets in cell wall biosynthesis are thus of particular interest since they might also restore sensitivity to existing drugs, and the cis-prenyl transferase undecaprenyl diphosphate synthase (UPPS), essential for lipid I, lipid II, and thus, peptidoglycan biosynthesis, is one such target. We used 12 UPPS crystal structures to validate virtual screening models and then assayed 100 virtual hits (from 450,000 compounds) against UPPS from S. aureus and Escherichia coli. The most promising inhibitors (IC50 ∼2 μM, Ki ∼300 nM) had activity against MRSA, Listeria monocytogenes, Bacillus anthracis, and a vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus sp. with MIC or IC50 values in the 0.25–4 μg/mL range. Moreover, one compound (1), a rhodanine with close structural similarity to the commercial diabetes drug epalrestat, exhibited good activity as well as a fractional inhibitory concentration index (FICI) of 0.1 with methicillin against the community-acquired MRSA USA300 strain, indicating strong synergism.
PMCID: PMC4096218  PMID: 24827744
14.  Discovery of Novel Inhibitors of HIV-1 Reverse Transcriptase Through Virtual Screening of Experimental and Theoretical Ensembles 
Chemical biology & drug design  2014;83(5):521-531.
Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs) are potent anti-HIV chemotherapeutics. Although there are FDA-approved NNRTIs, challenges such as the development of resistance have limited their utility. Here we describe the identification of novel NNRTIs through a combination of computational and experimental approaches. Based on the known plasticity of the NNRTI binding pocket (NNIBP), we adopted an ensemble-based virtual screening strategy: coupling receptor conformations from 10 x-ray crystal structures with 120 snapshots from a total of 480 ns of Molecular Dynamics (MD) trajectories. A screening library of 2,864 National Cancer Institute (NCI) compounds was built and docked against the ensembles in a hierarchical fashion. 16 diverse compounds were tested for their ability to block HIV infection in human tissue cultures using a luciferase-based reporter assay. 3 promising compounds were further characterized, using a HIV-1 RT based polymerase assay, to determine the specific mechanism of inhibition. We found that 2 of the 3 compounds inhibited the polymerase activity of RT (with potency similar to the positive control, the FDA-approved drug nevirapine). Through a computational approach, we were able to discover 2 compounds which inhibit HIV replication and block the activity of RT, thus offering the potential for optimization into mature inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3999242  PMID: 24405985
HIV; reverse transcriptase; NNRTI; molecular dynamics; virtual screening
15.  Improved Reweighting of Accelerated Molecular Dynamics Simulations for Free Energy Calculation 
Accelerated molecular dynamics (aMD) simulations greatly improve the efficiency of conventional molecular dynamics (cMD) for sampling biomolecular conformations, but they require proper reweighting for free energy calculation. In this work, we systematically compare the accuracy of different reweighting algorithms including the exponential average, Maclaurin series, and cumulant expansion on three model systems: alanine dipeptide, chignolin, and Trp-cage. Exponential average reweighting can recover the original free energy profiles easily only when the distribution of the boost potential is narrow (e.g., the range ≤20kBT) as found in dihedral-boost aMD simulation of alanine dipeptide. In dual-boost aMD simulations of the studied systems, exponential average generally leads to high energetic fluctuations, largely due to the fact that the Boltzmann reweighting factors are dominated by a very few high boost potential frames. In comparison, reweighting based on Maclaurin series expansion (equivalent to cumulant expansion on the first order) greatly suppresses the energetic noise but often gives incorrect energy minimum positions and significant errors at the energy barriers (∼2–3kBT). Finally, reweighting using cumulant expansion to the second order is able to recover the most accurate free energy profiles within statistical errors of ∼kBT, particularly when the distribution of the boost potential exhibits low anharmonicity (i.e., near-Gaussian distribution), and should be of wide applicability. A toolkit of Python scripts for aMD reweighting “PyReweighting” is distributed free of charge at
PMCID: PMC4095935  PMID: 25061441
16.  Accelerated Adaptive Integration Method 
The Journal of Physical Chemistry. B  2014;118(19):5109-5118.
Conformational changes that occur upon ligand binding may be too slow to observe on the time scales routinely accessible using molecular dynamics simulations. The adaptive integration method (AIM) leverages the notion that when a ligand is either fully coupled or decoupled, according to λ, barrier heights may change, making some conformational transitions more accessible at certain λ values. AIM adaptively changes the value of λ in a single simulation so that conformations sampled at one value of λ seed the conformational space sampled at another λ value. Adapting the value of λ throughout a simulation, however, does not resolve issues in sampling when barriers remain high regardless of the λ value. In this work, we introduce a new method, called Accelerated AIM (AcclAIM), in which the potential energy function is flattened at intermediate values of λ, promoting the exploration of conformational space as the ligand is decoupled from its receptor. We show, with both a simple model system (Bromocyclohexane) and the more complex biomolecule Thrombin, that AcclAIM is a promising approach to overcome high barriers in the calculation of free energies, without the need for any statistical reweighting or additional processors.
PMCID: PMC4025579  PMID: 24780083
17.  Free Energy Landscape of G-Protein Coupled Receptors, Explored by Accelerated Molecular Dynamics 
G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) mediate cellular responses to various hormones and neurotransmitters and are important targets for treating a wide spectrum of diseases. They are known to adopt multiple conformational states (e.g., inactive, intermediate and active) during their modulation of various cell signaling pathways. Here, the free energy landscape of GPCRs is explored using accelerated molecular dynamics (aMD) simulations as demonstrated on the M2 muscarinic receptor, a key GPCR that regulates human heart rate and contractile forces of cardiomyocytes. Free energy profiles of important structural motifs that undergo conformational transitions upon GPCR activation and allosteric signaling are analyzed in detail, including the Arg3.50-Glu6.30 ionic lock, the Trp6.48 toggle switch and the hydrogen interactions between Tyr5.58-Tyr7.53.
PMCID: PMC3960983  PMID: 24445284
GPCRs; Free Energy; Accelerated Molecular Dynamics; Conformational Sampling
18.  ‘Unconventional’ Coordination Chemistry by Metal Chelating Fragments in a Metalloprotein Active Site 
The binding of three closely related chelators: 5-hydroxy-2-methyl-4H-pyran-4-thione (allothiomaltol, ATM), 3-hydroxy-2-methyl-4H-pyran-4-thione (thiomaltol, TM), and 3-hydroxy-4H-pyran-4-thione (thiopyromeconic acid, TPMA) to the active site of human carbonic anhydrase II (hCAII) has been investigated. Two of these ligands display a monodentate mode of coordination to the active site Zn2+ ion in hCAII that is not recapitulated in model complexes of the enzyme active site. This unprecedented binding mode in the hCAII-thiomaltol complex has been characterized by both X-ray crystallography and X-ray spectroscopy. In addition, the steric restrictions of the active site force the ligands into a ‘flattened’ mode of coordination compared with inorganic model complexes. This change in geometry has been shown by density functional computations to significantly decrease the strength of the metal-ligand binding. Collectively, these data demonstrate that the mode of binding by small metal-binding groups (MBGs) can be significantly influenced by the protein active site. Diminishing the strength of the metal-ligand bond results in unconventional modes of metal coordination not found in typical coordination compounds or even carefully engineered active site models, and understanding these effects is critical to the rational design of inhibitors that target clinically relevant metalloproteins.
PMCID: PMC4104174  PMID: 24635441
19.  ‘Unconventional’ Coordination Chemistry by Metal Chelating Fragments in a Metalloprotein Active Site 
The binding of three closely related chelators: 5-hydroxy-2-methyl-4H-pyran-4-thione (allothiomaltol, ATM), 3-hydroxy-2-methyl-4H-pyran-4-thione (thiomaltol, TM), and 3-hydroxy-4H-pyran-4-thione (thiopyromeconic acid, TPMA) to the active site of human carbonic anhydrase II (hCAII) has been investigated. Two of these ligands display a monodentate mode of coordination to the active site Zn2+ ion in hCAII that is not recapitulated in model complexes of the enzyme active site. This unprecedented binding mode in the hCAII-thiomaltol complex has been characterized by both X-ray crystallography and X-ray spectroscopy. In addition, the steric restrictions of the active site force the ligands into a ‘flattened’ mode of coordination compared with inorganic model complexes. This change in geometry has been shown by density functional computations to significantly decrease the strength of the metal–ligand binding. Collectively, these data demonstrate that the mode of binding by small metal-binding groups can be significantly influenced by the protein active site. Diminishing the strength of the metal–ligand bond results in unconventional modes of metal coordination not found in typical coordination compounds or even carefully engineered active site models, and understanding these effects is critical to the rational design of inhibitors that target clinically relevant metalloproteins.
PMCID: PMC4104174  PMID: 24635441
20.  Dipeptide Aggregation in Aqueous Solution from Fixed Point-Charge Force Fields 
The description of aggregation processes with molecular dynamics simulations is a playground for testing biomolecular force fields, including a new generation of force fields that explicitly describe electronic polarization. In this work, we study a system consisting of 50 glycyl-l-alanine (Gly-Ala) dipeptides in solution with 1001 water molecules. Neutron diffraction experiments have shown that at this concentration, Gly-Ala aggregates into large clusters. However, general-purpose force fields in combination with established water models can fail to correctly describe this aggregation process, highlighting important deficiencies in how solute–solute and solute–solvent interactions are parametrized in these force fields. We found that even for the fully polarizable AMOEBA force field, the degree of association is considerably underestimated. Instead, a fixed point-charge approach based on the newly developed IPolQ scheme [Cerutti et al. J. Phys. Chem.2013, 117, 2328] allows for the correct modeling of the dipeptide aggregation in aqueous solution. This result should stimulate interest in novel fitting schemes that aim to improve the description of the solvent polarization effect within both explicitly polarizable and fixed point-charge frameworks.
PMCID: PMC3986234  PMID: 24803868
21.  Variational Implicit Solvation with Poisson–Boltzmann Theory 
We incorporate the Poisson–Boltzmann (PB) theory of electrostatics into our variational implicit-solvent model (VISM) for the solvation of charged molecules in an aqueous solvent. In order to numerically relax the VISM free-energy functional by our level-set method, we develop highly accurate methods for solving the dielectric PB equation and for computing the dielectric boundary force. We also apply our VISM-PB theory to analyze the solvent potentials of mean force and the effect of charges on the hydrophobic hydration for some selected molecular systems. These include some single ions, two charged particles, two charged plates, and the host–guest system Cucurbit[7]uril and Bicyclo[2.2.2]octane. Our computational results show that VISM with PB theory can capture well the sensitive response of capillary evaporation to the charge in hydrophobic confinement and the polymodal hydration behavior and can provide accurate estimates of binding affinity of the host–guest system. We finally discuss several issues for further improvement of VISM.
PMCID: PMC3985794  PMID: 24803864
22.  Structure, mechanism, and dynamics of UDP-galactopyranose mutase 
The flavoenzyme UDP-galactopyranose mutase (UGM) is a key enzyme in galactofuranose biosynthesis. The enzyme catalyzes the 6-to-5 ring contraction of UDP-galactopyranose to UDP-galactofuranose. Galactofuranose is absent in humans yet is an essential component of bacterial and fungal cell walls and a cell surface virulence factor in protozoan parasites. Thus, inhibition of galactofuranose biosynthesis is a valid strategy for developing new antimicrobials. UGM is an excellent target in this effort because the product of the UGM reaction represents the first appearance of galactofuranose in the biosynthetic pathway. The UGM reaction is redox neutral, which is atypical for flavoenzymes, motivating intense examination of the chemical mechanism and structural features that tune the flavin for its unique role in catalysis. These studies show that the flavin functions as nucleophile, forming a flavin-sugar adduct that facilitates galactose-ring opening and contraction. The 3-dimensional fold is novel and conserved among all UGMs, however the larger eukaryotic enzymes have additional secondary structure elements that lead to significant differences in quaternary structure, substrate conformation, and conformational flexibility. Here we present a comprehensive review of UGM three-dimensional structure, provide an update on recent developments in understanding the mechanism of the enzyme, and summarize computational studies of active site flexibility.
PMCID: PMC3946560  PMID: 24096172
flavin-dependent reaction; galactofuranose; non-redox reaction; neglected diseases; tuberculosis; redox-switch; conformational changes; protein dynamics
23.  The Marine Cyanobacterial Metabolite Gallinamide A is a Potent and Selective Inhibitor of Human Cathepsin L 
Journal of natural products  2013;77(1):92-99.
A number of marine natural products are potent inhibitors of proteases, an important drug target class in human diseases. Hence, marine cyanobacterial extracts were assessed for inhibitory activity to human cathepsin L. Herein, we have shown that gallinamide A potently and selectively inhibits the human cysteine protease, cathepsin L. With 30 min of preincubation, gallinamide A displayed an IC50 of 5.0 nM, and kinetic analysis demonstrated an inhibition constant of ki = 9000 ± 260 M−1 s−1. Preincubation-dilution and activity-probe experiments revealed an irreversible mode of inhibition, and comparative IC50 values display a 28- to 320- fold greater selectivity toward cathepsin L than closely related human cysteine cathepsins V or B. Molecular docking and molecular dynamics simulations were used to determine the pose of gallinamide in the active site of cathepsin L. These data resulted in the identification of a pose characterized by high stability, a consistent hydrogen bond network, and the reactive Michael acceptor enamide of gallinamide A positioned near the active site cysteine of the protease, leading to a proposed mechanism of covalent inhibition. These data reveal and characterize the novel activity of gallinamide A as a potent inhibitor of human cathepsin L.
PMCID: PMC3932306  PMID: 24364476
24.  Discovery of Staphylococcus aureus Sortase A Inhibitors Using Virtual Screening and the Relaxed Complex Scheme 
Chemical biology & drug design  2013;82(4):10.1111/cbdd.12167.
Staphylococcus aureus is the leading cause of hospital-acquired infections in the United States. The emergence of multi-drug resistant strains of S. aureus has created an urgent need for new antibiotics. S. aureus uses the sortase A (SrtA) enzyme to display surface virulence factors suggesting that compounds that inhibit its activity will function as potent anti-infective agents. Here we report the identification of several inhibitors of SrtA using virtual screening methods that employ the relaxed complex scheme, an advanced computer-docking methodology that accounts for protein receptor flexibility. Experimental testing validates that several compounds identified in the screen inhibit the activity of SrtA. A lead compound based on the 2-phenyl-2,3-dihydro-1H-perimidine scaffold is particularly promising and its binding mechanism was further investigated using molecular dynamics simulations and by conducting preliminary structure activity relationship studies.
PMCID: PMC3841297  PMID: 23701677
Staphylococcus aureus; MRSA; sortase; SrtA; transpeptidation; Gram-positive; drug discovery; virtual screening; relaxed complex scheme; molecular dynamics; docking
25.  Thermodynamic integration to predict host-guest binding affinities 
An alchemical free energy method with explicit solvent molecular dynamics simulations was applied as part of the blind prediction contest SAMPL3 to calculate binding free energies for seven guests to an acyclic cucurbit-[n]uril host. The predictions included determination of protonation states for both host and guests, docking pose generation, and binding free energy calculations using thermodynamic integration. We found a root mean square error (RMSE) of 3.6 kcal mol−1 from the reference experimental results, with an R2 correlation of 0.51. The agreement with experiment for the largest contributor to this error, guest 6, is improved by 1.7 kcal mol−1 when a periodicity-induced free energy correction is applied. The corrections for the other ligands were significantly smaller, and altogether the RMSE was reduced by 0.4 kcal mol−1. We link properties of the host-guest systems during simulation to errors in the computed free energies. Overall, we show that charged host-guest systems studied here, initialized in unconfirmed docking poses, present a challenge to accurate alchemical simulation methods.
PMCID: PMC4113475  PMID: 22350568
Thermodynamic integration; Molecular dynamics; Docking; Host-guest; Blind prediction

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