Molecular determinants of binding to the Plasmodium subtilisin-like protease 1

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PfSUB1, a subtilisin-like protease of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, is known to play important roles during the life cycle of the parasite and has emerged as a promising antimalarial drug target. In order to provide a detailed understanding of the origin of binding determinants of PfSUB1 substrates, we performed molecular dynamics simulations in combination with MM-GBSA free energy calculations using a homology model of PfSUB1 in complex with different substrate peptides. Key interactions, as well as residues that potentially make a major contribution to the binding free energy, are identified at the prime and nonprime side of the scissile bond and comprise peptide residues P4 to P2'. This finding stresses the requirement for peptide substrates to interact with both prime and nonprime side residues of the PfSUB1 binding site. Analyzing the energetic contributions of individual amino acids within the peptide-PfSUB1 complexes indicated that van der Waals interactions and the nonpolar part of solvation energy dictate the binding strength of the peptides and that the most favorable interactions are formed by peptide residues P4 and P1. Hot spot residues identified in PfSUB1 are dispersed over the entire binding site, but clustered areas of hot spots also exist and suggest that either the S4-S2 or the S1-S2' binding site should be exploited in efforts to design small molecule inhibitors. The results are discussed with respect to which binding determinants are specific to PfSUB1 and, therefore, might allow binding selectivity to be obtained.

Journal details

Volume 53
Issue number 3
Pages 573-583
Publication date


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