In this work, a new ansatz is presented that combines molecular dynamics simulations with MM-PBSA (Molecular Mechanics Poisson-Boltzmann/surface area) to rank the binding affinities of 12 TIBO-like HIV-1 RT inhibitors. Encouraging results have been obtained not only for the relative binding free energies, but also for the absolute ones, which have a root-mean-square deviation of 1.0 kcal/mol (the maximum error is 1.89 kcal/mol). Since the root-mean-square error is rather small, this approach can be reliably applied in ranking the ligands from the databases for this important target. Encouraged by the results, we decided to apply MM-PBSA combined with molecular docking to determine the binding mode of efavirenz SUSTIVA™ another promising HIV-1 RT inhibitor for which no ligand-protein crystal structure had been published at the time of this work. To proceed, we define the following ansatz: Five hundred picosecond molecular dynamics simulations were first performed for the five binding modes suggested by DOCK 4.0, and then MM-PBSA was carried out for the collected snapshots. MM-PBSA successfully identified the correct binding mode, which has a binding free energy about 7 kcal/mol more favorable than the second best mode. Moreover, the calculated binding free energy (-13.2 kcal/mol) is in reasonable agreement with experiment (-11.6 kcal/mol). In addition, this procedure was also quite successful in modeling the complex and the structure of the last snapshot was quite close to that of the measured 2,3 Å resolution crystal (structure the root-mean-square deviation of the 54 Cα around the binding site and the inhibitor is 1.1 Å). We want to point out that this result was achieved without prior knowledge of the structure of the efavirenz/RT complex. Therefore, molecular docking combined with MD simulations followed by MM-PBSA analysis is an attractive approach for modeling protein complexes a priori.
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