Steered molecular dynamics simulations reveal critical residues for (un)binding of substrates, inhibitors and a product to the malarial M1 aminopeptidase

by Daniel S. Moore, Conor Brines, Heather Jewhurst, John P. Dalton, Irina G. Tikhonova

Malaria is a life-threatening disease spread by mosquitoes. Plasmodium falciparum M1 alanyl aminopeptidase (PfM1-AAP) is a promising target for the treatment of malaria. The recently solved crystal structures of PfM1-AAP revealed that the buried active site can be accessed through two channel openings: a short N-terminal channel with the length of 8 Å and a long C-terminal channel with the length of 30 Å. It is unclear, however, how substrates and inhibitors migrate to the active site and a product of cleavage leaves. Here, we study the molecular mechanism of substrate and inhibitor migration to the active site and the product release using steered molecular dynamics simulations. We identified a stepwise passage of substrates and inhibitors in the C-terminal channel of PfM1-AAP, involving (I) ligand recognition at the opening of the channel, (II) ionic translation to the ‘water reservoir’, (III) ligand reorientation in the ‘water reservoir’ and (IV) passage in a suitable conformation into the active site. Endorsed by enzymatic analysis of functional recombinant PfM1-AAP and mutagenesis studies, our novel ligand-residue binding network analysis has identified the functional residues controlling ligand migration within the C-terminal channel of PfM1-AAP. Furthermore, from unbinding simulations of the Arg product we propose a charge repulsion as the driving force to expel the product out from the N-terminal channel of PfM1-AAP. Our work paves the way towards the design of a novel class of PfM1-AAP inhibitors based on preventing substrate entry to the active site.

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