Exploring aspartic protease inhibitor binding to design selective antimalarials

31 January 2022, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Selectivity is a major issue in the development of drugs targeting pathogen aspartic proteases. Here we explore the selectivity determining factors by studying specifically designed malaria aspartic protease (plasmepsin) open-flap inhibitors. Metadynamics simulations are used to uncover the complex binding/unbinding pathways of these inhibitors, and describe the critical transition states in atomistic resolution. The simulation results are compared to experimentally determined enzymatic activities. Our findings demonstrate that plasmepsin inhibitor selectivity can be achieved by targeting the flap loop with hydrophobic substituents that enable ligand binding under the flap loop, as such behaviour is not observed for several other aspartic proteases. The ability to estimate compound selectivity before they are synthesized is of great importance in drug design, therefore, we expect that our approach will be useful in selective inhibitor design not only against aspartic proteases, but other enzyme classes as well.


aspartic proteases
drug design
funnel metadynamics
molecular dynamics
cathepsin D

Supplementary materials

Supplementary information
Supplementary information to main text


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