Mechanism of Covalent Binding of Ibrutinib to Bruton’s Tyrosine Kinase revealed by QM/MM Calculations

29 October 2020, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Ibrutinib is the first covalent inhibitor of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) to be used in the treatment of B-cell cancers. Understanding the mechanism of covalent inhibition is crucial for the design of safer and more selective covalent inhibitors that target BTK. There are questions surrounding the precise mechanism of covalent bond formation in BTK as there is no appropriate active site residue that can act as a base to deprotonate the cysteine thiol prior to covalent bond formation. To address this, we have investigated several mechanistic pathways of covalent modification of C481 in BTK by ibrutinib using QM/MM reaction simulations. The lowest energy pathway we identified involves a direct proton transfer from C481 to the acrylamide warhead in ibrutinib, followed by covalent bond formation to form an enol intermediate. There is a subsequent rate-limiting keto-enol tautomerisation step (DG=10.5 kcal mol-1) to reach the inactivated BTK/ibrutinib complex. Our results represent the first mechanistic study of BTK inactivation by ibrutinib to consider multiple mechanistic pathways. These findings should aid in the design of covalent drugs that target BTK and related proteins.


covalent inhibition reaction
Covalent Inhibition Mechanism
Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK)


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