The recognition of carbohydrates by lectins plays key roles in diverse cellular processes such as cellular adhesion, proliferation, and apoptosis, which makes it a therapeutic target of significance against cancers. One of the most functionally active lectins, galectin-3 is distinctively known for its specific binding affinity toward β-galactoside. However, despite the prevalence of high-resolution crystallographic structures, the mechanistic basis and more significantly, the dynamic process underlying carbohydrate recognition by galectin-3 are currently elusive. To this end, we employed extensive Molecular Dynamics simulations to unravel the complete binding event of human galectin-3 with its native natural ligand N-acetyllactosamine (LacNAc) at atomic precision. The simulation trajectory demonstrates that the oligosaccharide diffuses around the protein and eventually identifies and binds to the biologically designated binding site of galectin-3 in real time. The simulated bound pose correlates with the crystallographic pose with atomic-level accuracy and recapitulates the signature stabilizing galectin-3/oligosaccharide interactions. The recognition pathway also reveals a set of transient non-native ligand poses in its course to the receptor. Interestingly, kinetic analysis in combination with a residue-level picture revealed that the key to the efficacy of a more active structural variant of the LacNAc lay in the ligand's resilience against disassociation from galectin-3. By catching the ligand in the act of finding its target, our investigations elucidate the detailed recognition mechanism of the carbohydrate-binding domain of galectin-3 and underscore the importance of ligand-target binary complex residence time in understanding the structure-activity relationship of cognate ligands.
This example uses the following methods: