• Advancing Drug and Biomaterial Design with Constant pH Molecular Dynamics Simulations

      Tsai, Cheng-chieh; Shen, Jana (2019)
      Molecular dynamics (MD) simulation is a valuable tool for investigating motions of macromolecular systems; however, solution pH, a critical factor for biological and chemical processes, is neglected in conventional MD simulations. To address this weakness, our group developed various continuous constant pH molecular dynamic (CpHMD) tools. In this dissertation, applications and new protocols that utilize CpHMD for drug and biomaterial design are presented. β-secretase 1 (BACE1, implicated in Alzheimers disease) and Src kinase (implicated in cancer) were utilized as model systems for drug design applications. In chapter 2, we applied CpHMD to understand the binding of BACE1 with two small-molecular inhibitors. We discovered that, despite the structural similarity of the two inhibitors, the titration behavior of the protein active site differs and this difference dramatically impacts the protein-ligand interactions and consequently the inhibitor affinity. Further, we tested a new protocol that combines CpHMD titration with free energy simulations to construct the pH-dependent binding free energy profiles. The resulting data showed excellent agreement with experiment and identified one potential allosteric site in BACE1. Next, in chapter 3, we simulated Src kinase to test the capability of CpHMD tostudy kinases. Starting from the crystal structure of the inactive Src, CpHMD can capture the conformational activation along the major inactive states without introducing any biasing potential or mutation. Starting from chapter 4, we studied the chitosan-based hydrogel systems to explore the detailed molecular mechanisms that give rise to macroscopic materials properties. We examined the flexibility of chitosan chains under different environmental conditions such as pH and salt concentration. Simulation data revealed that in addition to electrostatic screening, salt ions enhance the chain flexibility by interrupting the intra-molecular hydrogen bonds and thereby shifting the conformational populations between extended and bent states. In chapter 5, the atomic-level mechanism of pH-responsive chitosan-based hydrogels with switchable mechanical properties was investigated. Our data suggested that the electrostatic crosslinks are formed through the pH-dependent salt-bridge interactions between the chitosan glucosamines and surfactant headgroups. The pKa difference between the chitosan crystallite and the surfactant-bound chitosan is a key for the persistent but erasable gradient in the structural and mechanical properties between the two crosslinked regions. In summary, my work provids insights that will contribute to drug and biomaterial design and highlights the usefulness of CpHMD in these fields.