Theoretical and Computational Chemistry

Cosolvent and Dynamic Effects in Binding Pocket Search by Docking Simulations



The lack of conformational sampling in virtual screening projects can lead to inefficient results because many of the potential drugs may not be able to bind to the target protein during the static docking simulations. Here, we performed ensemble docking for around 2000 FDA approved drugs with the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) protein of SARS-CoV-2 as target. The representative protein structures were generated by clustering classical molecular dynamics trajectories, which were evolved using three solvent scenarios, namely, pure water and benzene/water and phenol/water mixtures. The introduction of dynamic effects in the theoretical model showed to improve the docking results in terms of the number of strong binders and binding sites in the protein. Some of the discovered pockets were found only for the cosolvent simulations, where the nonpolar probes induced local conformational changes in the protein that lead to the opening of transient pockets. In addition, the selection of the ligands based on a combination of the binding free energy and binding free energy gap between the best two poses for each ligand provided more suitable binders than the selection of ligands based solely on one of the criteria. The application of cosolvent molecular dynamics to enhance the sampling of the configurational space is expected to improve the efficacy of virtual screening campaigns of future drug discovery projects.


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