Molecular Docking of Intercalators and Groove-binders to Nucleic Acids Using Autodock and Surflex

The molecular docking tools Autodock and Surflex accurately reproduce the crystallographic structures of a collection of small molecule ligands that have been shown to bind nucleic acids. Docking studies were performed with the intercalators daunorubicin and ellipticine and the minor groove binders distamycin and pentamidine. Autodock and Surflex dock daunorubicin and distamycin to their nucleic acid targets within a resolution of approximately 2 A, which is similar to the limit of the crystal structure resolution. However, for the top ranked poses, Autodock and Surflex both dock ellipticine into the correct site but in a different orientation compared to the crystal structure. This appears not only to be partly related to the symmetry of the target nucleic acid, as ellipticine is able to dock from either side of the intercalation site, but also due to the shape of the ligand and docking accuracy. Surflex docks pentamidine in a symmetrically equivalent orientation relative to the crystal structure, while Autodock was able to dock this molecule in the original orientation. In the case of the Surflex docking of pentamidine, the initial rmsd is misleading, given the symmetrical structure of pentamidine. Importantly, the ranking functions of both of these programs are able to return a top pose within approximately 2 A rmsd for daunorubicin, distamycin, and pentamidine and approximately 3 A rmsd for ellipticine compared to their respective crystal structures. Some docking challenges and potential pitfalls are explored, such as the importance of hydrogen treatment on ligands as well as the scoring functions of Autodock and Surflex. Overall for this set of complexes, Surflex is preferred over Autodock for virtual screening, as although the results are comparable, Surflex has significantly faster performance and ease of use under the optimal software conditions tested. These experiments show that molecular docking techniques can be successfully extended to include nucleic acid targets, a finding which has important implications for virtual screening applications and in the design of new small molecules to target therapeutically relevant morphologies of nucleic acids.



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