This study presents a novel computational approach to study molecular recognition and binding kinetics for drug-like compounds dissociating from a flexible protein system. The intermediates and their free energy profile during ligand association and dissociation processes control ligand-protein binding kinetics and bring a more complete picture of ligand-protein binding. The method applied the milestoning theory to extract kinetics and thermodynamics information from running short classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations for frames from a given dissociation path. High-dimensional ligand-protein motions (3N-6 degrees of freedom) during ligand dissociation were reduced by use of principal component modes for assigning more than 100 milestones, and classical MD runs were allowed to travel multiple milestones to efficiently obtain ensemble distribution of initial structures for MD simulations and estimate the transition time and rate during ligand traveling between milestones. We used five pyrazolourea ligands and cyclin-dependent kinase 8 with cyclin C (CDK8/CycC) as our model system as well as metadynamics and a pathway search method to sample dissociation pathways. With our strategy, we constructed the free energy profile for highly mobile biomolecular systems. The computed binding free energy and residence time correctly ranked the pyrazolourea ligand series, in agreement with experimental data. Guided by a barrier of a ligand passing an αC helix and activation loop, we introduced one hydroxyl group to parent compounds to design our ligands with increased residence time and validated our prediction by experiments. This work provides a novel and robust approach to investigate dissociation kinetics of large and flexible systems for understanding unbinding mechanisms and designing new small-molecule drugs with desired binding kinetics.
This work describes an example of using Milestoning in kinetic calculations.
The following methods are also used: