Discovering and exploiting hidden pockets at protein interfaces
Cuchillo, Rémi Jean-Michel José
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The number of three-dimensional structures of potential protein targets available in several platforms such as the Protein Data Bank is subjected to a constant increase over the last decades. This observation should be an additional motivation to use structure-based methodologies in drug discovery. In the recent years, different success stories of Structure Based Drug Design approach have been reported. However, it has also been shown that a lack of druggability is one of the major causes of failure in the development of a new compound.The concept of druggability can be used to describe proteins with the capability to bind drug-like compounds. A general consensus suggests that around 10% of the human genome codes for molecular targets that can be considered as druggable. Over the years, the protein druggability was studied with a particular interest to capture structural descriptors in order to develop computational methodologies for druggability assessment. Different computational methods have been published to detect and evaluate potential binding sites at protein surfaces. The majority of methods currently available are designed to assess druggability of a static structure. However it is well known that sometimes a few local rearrangements around the binding site can profoundly influence the affinity of a small molecule to its target. The use of techniques such as molecular dynamics (MD) or Metadynamics could be an interesting way to simulate those variations. The goal of this thesis was to design a new computational approach, called JEDI, for druggability assessment using a combination of empirical descriptors that can be collected ‘on-the-fly’ during MD simulations. JEDI is a grid-based approach able to perform the druggability assessment of a binding site in only a few seconds making it one of the fastest methodologies in the field. Agreement between computed and experimental druggability estimates is comparable to literature alternatives. In addition, the estimator is less sensitive than existing methodologies to small structural rearrangements and gives consistent druggability predictions for similar structures of the same protein. Since the JEDI function is continuous and differentiable, the druggability potential can be used as collective variable to rapidly detect cryptic druggable binding sites in proteins with a variety of MD free energy methods.