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Chem Biol. 1995 May;2(5):317-24.

Molecular recognition of the inhibitor AG-1343 by HIV-1 protease: conformationally flexible docking by evolutionary programming.

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Agouron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., San Diego, CA 92121-1121, USA.



An important prerequisite for computational structure-based drug design is prediction of the structures of ligand-protein complexes that have not yet been experimentally determined by X-ray crystallography or NMR. For this task, docking of rigid ligands is inadequate because it assumes knowledge of the conformation of the bound ligand. Docking of flexible ligands would be desirable, but requires one to search an enormous conformational space. We set out to develop a strategy for flexible docking by combining a simple model of ligand-protein interactions for molecular recognition with an evolutionary programming search technique.


We have developed an intermolecular energy function that incorporates steric and hydrogen-bonding terms. The parameters in this function were obtained by docking in three different protein systems. The effectiveness of this method was demonstrated by conformationally flexible docking of the inhibitor AG-1343, a potential new drug against AIDS, into HIV-1 protease. For this molecule, which has nine rotatable bonds, the crystal structure was reproduced within 1.5 A root-mean-square deviation 34 times in 100 simulations, each requiring eight minutes on a Silicon Graphics R4400 workstation. The energy function correctly evaluates the crystal structure as the global energy minimum.


We believe that a solution of the docking problem may be achieved by matching a simple model of molecular recognition with an efficient search procedure. The necessary ingredients of a molecular recognition model include only steric and hydrogen-bond interaction terms. Although these terms are not necessarily sufficient to predict binding affinity, they describe ligand-protein interactions faithfully enough to enable a docking program to predict the structure of the bound ligand. This docking strategy thus provides an important tool for the interdisciplinary field of rational drug design.

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