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J Mol Biol. 2009 May 8;388(3):644-58. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2009.03.037. Epub 2009 Mar 24.

Elucidating the inhibition mechanism of HIV-1 non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors through multicopy molecular dynamics simulations.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0365, USA.


Human immunodeficiency virus-1 reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibition is a major focus of current anti-AIDS drug discovery and development programs, comprising 17 of the 31 Food and Drug Administration-approved compounds. The emergence of the non-nucleoside RT inhibitor (NNRTI) class of compounds provides a highly specific and structurally diverse set of drugs, which act noncompetitively to perturb normal RT function. Despite a relatively rich set of crystallographic data of RT in various states, details of the allosteric modulation of RT dynamics by NNRTIs are lacking. Capturing this inhibitory mechanism could fuel the design of more effective inhibitors at the NNRTI site and also drive the identification of novel allosteric sites. To address this, we have performed multicopy molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of RT in the presence and absence of the NNRTI nevirapine (cumulative total simulation time, 360 ns). By comparing the collective motions of the MD and crystallographic structures, we demonstrate that the chief effect of NNRTIs is to constrain a key rigid-body motion between the "fingers" and "thumb" subdomains of the p66 subunit. We show that the NNRTI binding pocket (NNIBP) is proximal to the hinge points for this essential motion, and NNRTIs therefore act as "molecular wedges," sterically blocking the full range of motion. To explain how this impaired movement might result in the experimentally observed loss of polymerase activity, we show that the motion influences the geometry of key catalytic residues on opposite faces of the NNIBP. From a methodological point of view, our results suggest that the multicopy MD simulation approach is very useful when studying proteins that perform such large conformational changes.

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