WaterMap™ has been extensively validated across multiple target classes:
The hydrophobic effect—a rationalization of the insolubility of nonpolar molecules in water—is centrally important to biomolecular recognition. Despite extensive research devoted to the hydrophobic effect, its molecular mechanisms remain controversial, and there are still no reliably predictive models for its role in protein–ligand binding. Here we describe a particularly well-defined system of protein and ligands—carbonic anhydrase and a series of structurally homologous heterocyclic aromatic sulfonamides—that we use to characterize hydrophobic interactions thermodynamically and structurally. In binding to this structurally rigid protein, a set of ligands (also defined to be structurally rigid) shows the expected gain in binding free energy as hydrophobic surface area is added. Isothermal titration calorimetry demonstrates that enthalpy determines these increases in binding affinity, and that changes in the heat capacity of binding are negative. X-ray crystallography and molecular dynamics simulations are compatible with the proposal that the differences in binding between the homologous ligands stem from changes in the number and organization of water molecules localized in the active site in the bound complexes, rather than (or perhaps in addition to) release of structured water from the apposed hydrophobic surfaces. These results support the hypothesis that structured water molecules—including both the molecules of water displaced by the ligands and those reorganized upon ligand binding—determine the thermodynamics of binding of these ligands at the active site of the protein. Hydrophobic effects in various contexts have different structural and thermodynamic origins, although all may be manifestations of the differences in characteristics of bulk water and water close to hydrophobic surfaces.
The prevention of blood coagulation is important in treating thromboembolic disorders and several serine proteases involved in the coagulation cascade have been classified as pharmaceutically relevant. While structure-based drug design has contributed to the development of some serine protease inhibitors, traditional computational methods have not been able to fully describe structure-activity relationships (SAR). Here, we study SAR for a number of serine protease series using a method that calculates the thermodynamic properties (enthalpy and entropy) of the water solvating the active site. We show that the displacement of water from specific subpockets (e.g. S1-4, and the ester binding pocket) of the active site by the ligand can govern potency, especially in cases where small chemical changes (a methyl or halogen) result in a substantial increase in potency. Furthermore, we describe how relative binding free energies can be estimated by combining the water displacement energy with complementary terms from an implicit solvent molecular mechanics description of the binding event.
Kinases remain an important drug target class within the pharmaceutical industry; however, the rational design of kinase inhibitors is plagued by the complexity of gaining selectivity for a small number of proteins within a family of more than 500 related enzymes. Herein we show how a computational method for identifying the location and thermodynamic properties of water molecules within a protein binding site can yield insight into previously inexplicable selectivity and structure-activity relationships. Four kinase systems (Src family, Abl/c-Kit, Syk/ZAP-70, and CDK2/4) were investigated, and differences in predicted water molecule locations and energetics were able to explain the experimentally observed binding selectivity profiles. The successful predictions across the range of kinases studied here suggest that this methodology could be generally applicable for predicting selectivity profiles in related targets.
A series of triazolylpurine analogues show interesting and unintuitive structure-activity relationships against the A2A adenosine receptor. As the 2-substituted aliphatic group is initially increased to methyl and isopropyl, there is a decrease in potency; however, extending the substituent to n-butyl and n-pentyl results in a significant gain in potency. This trend cannot be readily explained by ligand-receptor interactions, steric effects, or differences in ligand desolvation. Here, we show that a novel method for characterizing solvent thermodynamics in protein binding sites correctly predicts the trend in binding affinity for this series based on the differential water displacement patterns. In brief, small unfavorable substituents occupy a region in the A2A adenosine receptor binding site predicted to contain stable waters, while the longer favorable substituents extend to a region that contains several unstable waters. The predicted binding energies associated with displacing water within these hydration sites correlate well with the experimental activities.
LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) is cleared from plasma via cellular uptake and internalization processes that are largely mediated by the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol receptor (LDL-R). LDL-R is targeted for lysosomal degradation by association with proprotein convertase subtilisin-kexin type 9 (PCSK9). Gain of function mutations in PCSK9 can result in excessive loss of receptors and dyslipidemia. On the other hand, receptor-sparing phenomena, including loss-of-function mutations or inhibition of PCSK9, can lead to enhanced clearance of plasma lipids. We hypothesize that desolvation and resolvation processes, in many cases, constitute rate-determining steps for protein–ligand association and dissociation, respectively. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed and compared the predicted desolvation properties of wild-type versus gain-of-function mutant Asp374Tyr PCSK9 using WaterMap, a new in silico method for predicting the preferred locations and thermodynamic properties of water solvating proteins (“hydration sites”). We compared these results with binding kinetics data for PCSK9, full-length LDL-R ectodomain, and isolated EGF-A repeat. We propose that the fast kon and entropically driven thermodynamics observed for PCSK9-EGF-A binding stem from the functional replacement of water occupying stable PCSK9 hydration sites (i.e., exchange of PCSK9 H-bonds from water to polar EGF-A groups). We further propose that the relatively fast koff observed for EGF-A unbinding stems from the limited displacement of solvent occupying unstable hydration sites. Conversely, the slower koff observed for EGF-A and LDL-R unbinding from Asp374Tyr PCSK9 stems from the destabilizing effects of this mutation on PCSK9 hydration sites, with a concomitant increase in the persistence of the bound complex.
PDZ domains have well known binding preferences for distinct C-terminal peptide motifs. For most PDZ domains, these motifs are of the form [S/T]-W-[I/L/V]. Although the preference for S/T has been explained by a specific hydrogen bond interaction with a histidine in the PDZ domain and the (I/L/V) is buried in a hydrophobic pocket, the mechanism for Trp specificity at the second to last position has thus far remained unknown. Here, we apply a method to compute the free energies of explicit water molecules and predict that potency gained by Trp binding is due to a favorable release of high-energy water molecules into bulk. The affinities of a series of peptides for both wild-type and mutant forms of the PDZ domain of Erbin correlate very well with the computed free energy of binding of displaced waters, suggesting a direct relationship between water displacement and peptide affinity. Finally, we show a correlation between the magnitude of the displaced water free energy and the degree of Trp-sensitivity among subtypes of the HTRA PDZ family, indicating a water-mediated mechanism for specificity of peptide binding.
Understanding the underlying physics of the binding of small-molecule ligands to protein active sites is a key objective of computational chemistry and biology. It is widely believed that displacement of water molecules from the active site by the ligand is a principal (if not the dominant) source of binding free energy. Although continuum theories of hydration are routinely used to describe the contributions of the solvent to the binding affinity of the complex, it is still an unsettled question as to whether or not these continuum solvation theories describe the underlying molecular physics with sufficient accuracy to reliably rank the binding affinities of a set of ligands for a given protein. Here we develop a novel, computationally efficient descriptor of the contribution of the solvent to the binding free energy of a small molecule and its associated receptor that captures the effects of the ligand displacing the solvent from the protein active site with atomic detail. This descriptor quantitatively predicts (R(2) = 0.81) the binding free energy differences between congeneric ligand pairs for the test system factor Xa, elucidates physical properties of the active-site solvent that appear to be missing in most continuum theories of hydration, and identifies several features of the hydration of the factor Xa active site relevant to the structure-activity relationship of its inhibitors.
The thermodynamic properties and phase behavior of water in confined regions can vary significantly from that observed in the bulk. This is particularly true for systems in which the confinement is on the molecular-length scale. In this study, we use molecular dynamics simulations and a powerful solvent analysis technique based on inhomogenous solvation theory to investigate the properties of water molecules that solvate the confined regions of protein active sites. Our simulations and analysis indicate that the solvation of protein active sites that are characterized by hydrophobic enclosure and correlated hydrogen bonds induce atypical entropic and enthalpic penalties of hydration. These penalties apparently stabilize the protein-ligand complex with respect to the independently solvated ligand and protein, which leads to enhanced binding affinities. Our analysis elucidates several challenging cases, including the super affinity of the streptavidin-biotin system.