Multiple diverse ligands binding at a single protein site: a matter of pre-existing populations.
BACKGROUND The substrate sites of enzymes are attractive targets for structure-based inhibitor design. Two difficulties hinder efforts to discover and elaborate new (nonsubstrate-like) inhibitors for these sites. First, novel inhibitors often bind at nonsubstrate sites. Second, a novel scaffold introduces chemistry that is frequently unfamiliar, making synthetic elaboration challenging. RESULTS In an effort to discover and elaborate a novel scaffold for a substrate site, we combined structure-based screening with in-parallel synthetic elaboration. These techniques were used to find new inhibitors that bound to the folate site of Lactobacillus casei thymidylate synthase (LcTS), an enzyme that is a potential target for proliferative diseases, and is highly studied. The available chemicals directory was screened, using a molecular-docking computer program, for molecules that complemented the three-dimensional structure of this site. Five high-ranking compounds were selected for testing. Activity and docking studies led to a derivative of one of these, dansyltyrosine (Ki 65 microM). Using solid-phase in-parallel techniques 33 derivatives of this lead were synthesized and tested. These analogs are dissimilar to the substrate but bind competitively with it. The most active analog had a Ki of 1.3 microM. The tighter binding inhibitors were also the most specific for LcTS versus related enzymes. CONCLUSIONS TS can recognize inhibitors that are dissimilar to, but that bind competitively with, the folate substrate. Combining structure-based discovery with in-parallel synthetic techniques allowed the rapid elaboration of this series of compounds. More automated versions of this approach can be envisaged.