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Sci Rep. 2016 Mar 31;6:23690. doi: 10.1038/srep23690.

Structure Based Docking and Molecular Dynamic Studies of Plasmodial Cysteine Proteases against a South African Natural Compound and its Analogs.

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Research Unit in Bioinformatics (RUBi), Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.
Department of Genetics, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.
Department of Chemistry, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.


Identification of potential drug targets as well as development of novel antimalarial chemotherapies with unique mode of actions due to drug resistance by Plasmodium parasites are inevitable. Falcipains (falcipain-2 and falcipain-3) of Plasmodium falciparum, which catalyse the haemoglobin degradation process, are validated drug targets. Previous attempts to develop peptide based drugs against these enzymes have been futile due to the poor pharmacological profiles and susceptibility to degradation by host enzymes. This study aimed to identify potential non-peptide inhibitors against falcipains and their homologs from other Plasmodium species. Structure based virtual docking approach was used to screen a small non-peptidic library of natural compounds from South Africa against 11 proteins. A potential hit, 5α-Pregna-1,20-dien-3-one (5PGA), with inhibitory activity against plasmodial proteases and selectivity on human cathepsins was identified. A 3D similarity search on the ZINC database using 5PGA identified five potential hits based on their docking energies. The key interacting residues of proteins with compounds were identified via molecular dynamics and free binding energy calculations. Overall, this study provides a basis for further chemical design for more effective derivatives of these compounds. Interestingly, as these compounds have cholesterol-like nuclei, they and their derivatives might be well tolerated in humans.

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