How to calculate pH-dependent binding rates for receptor-ligand systems based on thermodynamic simulations with different binding motifs

  • Molecular simulations of ligand-receptor interactions are a computational challenge, especially when their association- (``on''-rate) and dissociation- (``off''-rate) mechanisms are working on vastly differing timescales. In addition, the timescale of the simulations themselves is, in practice, orders of magnitudes smaller than that of the mechanisms; which further adds to the complexity of observing these mechanisms, and of drawing meaningful and significant biological insights from the simulation. One way of tackling this multiscale problem is to compute the free-energy landscapes, where molecular dynamics (MD) trajectories are used to only produce certain statistical ensembles. The approach allows for deriving the transition rates between energy states as a function of the height of the activation-energy barriers. In this article, we derive the association rates of the opioids fentanyl and N-(3-fluoro-1-phenethylpiperidin-4-yl)- N-phenyl propionamide (NFEPP) in a $\mu$-opioid receptor by combining the free-energy landscape approach with the square-root-approximation method (SQRA), which is a particularly robust version of Markov modelling. The novelty of this work is that we derive the association rates as a function of the pH level using only an ensemble of MD simulations. We also verify our MD-derived insights by reproducing the in vitro study performed by the Stein Lab, who investigated the influence of pH on the inhibitory constant of fentanyl and NFEPP (Spahn et al. 2017). MD simulations are far more accessible and cost-effective than in vitro and in vivo studies. Especially in the context of the current opioid crisis, MD simulations can aid in unravelling molecular functionality and assist in clinical decision-making; the approaches presented in this paper are a pertinent step forward in this direction.

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Author:Marcus Weber, Christof Schütte, Vikram Sunkara, Ray Sourav
Document Type:ZIB-Report
Tag:Opioid, Ligand-Receptor Interaction, Binding Kinetics, Molecular Dynamics, Metadynamics, SQRA
Date of first Publication:2020/06/03
Series (Serial Number):ZIB-Report (20-18)