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J Chem Inf Model. 2012 May 25;52(5):1345-55. doi: 10.1021/ci300040c. Epub 2012 May 8.

Novel inhibitor discovery through virtual screening against multiple protein conformations generated via ligand-directed modeling: a maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase example.

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Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, College of Pharmacy, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.


Kinase targets have been demonstrated to undergo major conformational reorganization upon ligand binding. Such protein conformational plasticity remains a significant challenge in structure-based virtual screening methodology and may be approximated by screening against an ensemble of diverse protein conformations. Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK), a member of serine-threonine kinase family, has been recently found to be involved in the tumerogenic state of glioblastoma, breast, ovarian, and colon cancers. We therefore modeled several conformers of MELK utilizing the available chemogenomic and crystallographic data of homologous kinases. We carried out docking pose prediction and virtual screening enrichment studies with these conformers. The performances of the ensembles were evaluated by their ability to reproduce known inhibitor bioactive conformations and to efficiently recover known active compounds early in the virtual screen when seeded with decoy sets. A few of the individual MELK conformers performed satisfactorily in reproducing the native protein-ligand pharmacophoric interactions up to 50% of the cases. By selecting an ensemble of a few representative conformational states, most of the known inhibitor binding poses could be rationalized. For example, a four conformer ensemble is able to recover 95% of the studied actives, especially with imperfect scoring function(s). The virtual screening enrichment varied considerably among different MELK conformers. Enrichment appears to improve by selection of a proper protein conformation. For example, several holo and unliganded active conformations are better to accommodate diverse chemotypes than ATP-bound conformer. These results prove that using an ensemble of diverse conformations could give a better performance. Applying this approach, we were able to screen a commercially available library of half a million compounds against three conformers to discover three novel inhibitors of MELK, one from each template. Among the three compounds validated via experimental enzyme inhibition assays, one is relatively potent (15; K(d) = 0.37 μM), one moderately active (12; K(d) = 3.2 μM), and one weak but very selective (9; K(d) = 18 μM). These novel hits may be utilized to assist in the development of small molecule therapeutic agents useful in diseases caused by deregulated MELK, and perhaps more importantly, the approach demonstrates the advantages of choosing an appropriate ensemble of a few conformers in pursuing compound potency, selectivity, and novel chemotypes over using single target conformation for structure-based drug design in general.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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