Multivariate design of molecular docking experiments : An investigation of protein-ligand interactions

Abstract: To be able to make informed descicions regarding the research of new drug molecules (ligands), it is crucial to have access to information regarding the chemical interaction between the drug and its biological target (protein). Computer-based methods have a given role in drug research today and, by using methods such as molecular docking, it is possible to investigate the way in which ligands and proteins interact. Despite the acceleration in computer power experienced in the last decades many problems persist in modelling these complicated interactions. The main objective of this thesis was to investigate and improve molecular modelling methods aimed to estimate protein-ligand binding. In order to do so, we have utilised chemometric tools, e.g. design of experiments (DoE) and principal component analysis (PCA), in the field of molecular modelling. More specifically, molecular docking was investigated as a tool for reproduction of ligand poses in protein 3D structures and for virtual screening. Adjustable parameters in two docking software were varied using DoE and parameter settings were identified which lead to improved results. In an additional study, we explored the nature of ligand-binding cavities in proteins since they are important factors in protein-ligand interactions, especially in the prediction of the function of newly found proteins. We developed a strategy, comprising a new set of descriptors and PCA, to map proteins based on their cavity physicochemical properties. Finally, we applied our developed strategies to design a set of glycopeptides which were used to study autoimmune arthritis. A combination of docking and statistical molecular design, synthesis and biological evaluation led to new binders for two different class II MHC proteins and recognition by a panel of T-cell hybridomas. New and interesting SAR conclusions could be drawn and the results will serve as a basis for selection of peptides to include in in vivo studies.