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1.  Structural basis for mu-opioid receptor binding and activation 
Structure (London, England : 1993)  2011;19(11):1683-1690.
Opioids that stimulate the μ-opioid receptor (MOR1) are the most frequently prescribed and effective analgesics. Here we present a structural model of MOR1. Molecular dynamics simulations show a ligand-dependent increase in the conformational flexibility of the third intracellular loop that couples with the G-protein complex. These simulations likewise identified residues that form frequent contacts with ligands. We validated the binding residues using site-directed mutagenesis coupled with radioligand binding and functional assays. The model was used to blindly screen a library of ~1.2 million compounds. From the thirty-four compounds predicted to be strong binders, the top three candidates were examined using biochemical assays. One compound showed high efficacy and potency. Post hoc testing revealed this compound to be nalmefene, a potent clinically used antagonist, thus further validating the model. In summary, the MOR1 model provides a tool for elucidating the structural mechanism of ligand-initiated cell signaling and screening for novel analgesics.
PMCID: PMC3217204  PMID: 22078567
2.  Disruptive mRNA folding increases translational efficiency of catechol-O-methyltransferase variant 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(14):6201-6212.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is a major enzyme controlling catecholamine levels that plays a central role in cognition, affective mood and pain perception. There are three common COMT haplotypes in the human population reported to have functional effects, divergent in two synonymous and one nonsynonymous position. We demonstrate that one of the haplotypes, carrying the non-synonymous variation known to code for a less stable protein, exhibits increased protein expression in vitro. This increased protein expression, which would compensate for lower protein stability, is solely produced by a synonymous variation (C166T) situated within the haplotype and located in the 5′ region of the RNA transcript. Based on mRNA secondary structure predictions, we suggest that structural destabilization near the start codon caused by the T allele could be related to the observed increase in COMT expression. Our folding simulations of the tertiary mRNA structures demonstrate that destabilization by the T allele lowers the folding transition barrier, thus decreasing the probability of occupying its native state. These data suggest a novel structural mechanism whereby functional synonymous variations near the translation initiation codon affect the translation efficiency via entropy-driven changes in mRNA dynamics and present another example of stable compensatory genetic variations in the human population.
PMCID: PMC3152328  PMID: 21486747
3.  Serotonin-Induced Hypersensitivity via Inhibition of Catechol O-Methyltransferase Activity 
Molecular Pain  2012;8:25.
The subcutaneous and systemic injection of serotonin reduces cutaneous and visceral pain thresholds and increases responses to noxious stimuli. Different subtypes of 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) receptors are suggested to be associated with different types of pain responses. Here we show that serotonin also inhibits catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme that contributes to modultion the perception of pain, via non-competitive binding to the site bound by catechol substrates with a binding affinity comparable to the binding affinity of catechol itself (Ki = 44 μM). Using computational modeling, biochemical tests and cellular assays we show that serotonin actively competes with the methyl donor S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) within the catalytic site. Binding of serotonin to the catalytic site inhibits the access of SAM, thus preventing methylation of COMT substrates. The results of in vivo animal studies show that serotonin-induced pain hypersensitivity in mice is reduced by either SAM pretreatment or by the combined administration of selective antagonists for β2- and β3-adrenergic receptors, which have been previously shown to mediate COMT-dependent pain signaling. Our results suggest that inhibition of COMT via serotonin binding contributes to pain hypersensitivity, providing additional strategies for the treatment of clinical pain conditions.
PMCID: PMC3495668  PMID: 22500608
4.  Structural Mechanism of S-Adenosyl Methionine Binding to Catechol O-Methyltransferase 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e24287.
Methyltransferases possess a homologous domain that requires both a divalent metal cation and S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) to catalyze its reactions. The kinetics of several methyltransferases has been well characterized; however, the details regarding their structural mechanisms have remained unclear to date. Using catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) as a model, we perform discrete molecular dynamics and computational docking simulations to elucidate the initial stages of cofactor binding. We find that COMT binds SAM via an induced-fit mechanism, where SAM adopts a different docking pose in the absence of metal and substrate in comparison to the holoenzyme. Flexible modeling of the active site side-chains is essential for observing the lowest energy state in the apoenzyme; rigid docking tools are unable to recapitulate the pose unless the appropriate side-chain conformations are given a priori. From our docking results, we hypothesize that the metal reorients SAM in a conformation suitable for donating its methyl substituent to the recipient ligand. The proposed mechanism enables a general understanding of how divalent metal cations contribute to methyltransferase function.
PMCID: PMC3164188  PMID: 21904625

Results 1-4 (4)