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Protein Flexibility and Species Specificity in Structure-Based Drug Discovery:  Dihydrofolate Reductase as a Test System

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journal contribution
posted on 28.03.2007, 00:00 by Anna L. Bowman, Michael G. Lerner, Heather A. Carlson
In structure-based drug discovery, researchers would like to identify all possible scaffolds for a given target. However, techniques that push the boundaries of chemical space could lead to many false positives or inhibitors that lack specificity for the target. Is it possible to broadly identify the appropriate chemical space for the inhibitors and yet maintain target specificity? To address this question, we have turned to dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), a well-studied metabolic enzyme of pharmacological relevance. We have extended our multiple protein structure (MPS) method for receptor-based pharmacophore models to use multiple X-ray crystallographic structures. Models were created for DHFR from human and Pneumocystis carinii. These models incorporate a fair degree of protein flexibility and are highly selective for known DHFR inhibitors over drug-like non-inhibitors. Despite sharing a highly conserved active site, the pharmacophore models reflect subtle differences between the human and P. carinii forms, which identify species-specific, high-affinity inhibitors. We also use structures of DHFR from Candida albicans as a counter example. The available crystal structures show little flexibility, and the resulting models give poorer performance in identifying species-specific inhibitors. Therapeutic success for this system may depend on achieving species specificity between the related human host and these key fungal targets. The MPS technique is a promising advance for structure-based drug discovery for DHFR and other proteins of biomedical interest.