Characterization of Promiscuous Binding of Phosphor Ligands to Breast-Cancer-Gene 1 (BRCA1) C-Terminal (BRCT): Molecular Dynamics, Free Energy, Entropy and Inhibitor Design

Wanli You, Yu ming M. Huang, Smitha Kizhake, Amarnath Natarajan, Chia en A. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Inhibition of the protein-protein interaction (PPI) mediated by breast-cancer-gene 1 C-terminal (BRCT) is an attractive strategy to sensitize breast and ovarian cancers to chemotherapeutic agents that induce DNA damage. Such inhibitors could also be used for studies to understand the role of this PPI in DNA damage response. However, design of BRCT inhibitors is challenging because of the inherent flexibility associated with this domain. Several studies identified short phosphopeptides as tight BRCT binders. Here we investigated the thermodynamic properties of 18 phosphopeptides or peptide with phosphate mimic and three compounds with phosphate groups binding to BRCT to understand promiscuous molecular recognition and guide inhibitor design. We performed molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to investigate the interactions between inhibitors and BRCT and their dynamic behavior in the free and bound states. MD simulations revealed the key role of loops in altering the shape and size of the binding site to fit various ligands. The mining minima (M2) method was used for calculating binding free energy to explore the driving forces and the fine balance between configuration entropy loss and enthalpy gain. We designed a rigidified ligand, which showed unfavorable experimental binding affinity due to weakened enthalpy. This was because it lacked the ability to rearrange itself upon binding. Investigation of another phosphate group containing compound, C1, suggested that the entropy loss can be reduced by preventing significant narrowing of the energy well and introducing multiple new compound conformations in the bound states. From our computations, we designed an analog of C1 that introduced new intermolecular interactions to strengthen attractions while maintaining small entropic penalty. This study shows that flexible compounds do not always encounter larger entropy penalty, compared with other more rigid binders, and highlights a new strategy for inhibitor design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1005057
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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