Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Wayne C. Guida


Low-mode, Normal Mode Analysis, Peptide Docking, Protein Flexibility, Virtual Target Screening


The scope of this work focuses on computationally modeling compounds with protein structures. While the impetus of drug discovery is the innovation of new therapeutic molecules, it also involves distinguishing molecules that would not be an effective drug. This can be achieved by inventing new tools or by refining old tools. Virtual screening (VS, also called docking), the computational modeling of a molecule in a receptor structure, is a staple in predicting a molecule's affinity for an intended target. In our Virtual Target Screening system (also called inverse-docking), VS is used to find high-affinity targets, which can potentially explain absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) of a molecule of interest in the human body. The next project, low-mode docking (LD), attempts to improve VS by incorporating protein flexibility into traditional docking where a static receptor structure has potential to produce poor results due to incorrectly predicted ligand poses. Finally, VS, performed mostly on small molecules, is scaled up to cyclic peptides by employing Monte Carlo simulations and molecular dynamics to mimic the steps of small molecule VS.

The first project discussed is Virtual Target Screening (also called inverse-docking) where a small molecule is virtually screened against a library of protein structures. Predicting receptors to which a synthesized compound may bind would give insights to drug repurposing, metabolism, toxicity, and lead optimization. Our protocol calibrates each protein entry with a diverse set of small molecule structures, the NCI Diversity Set I. Our test set, 20 kinase inhibitors, was predicted to have a high percentage of kinase "hits" among approximately 1500 protein structures. Further, approved drugs within the test set generally had better rates of kinase hits.

Next, normal mode analysis (NMA), which can computationally describe the fundamental motions of a receptor structure, is utilized to approach the rigid body bias problem in traditional docking techniques. Traditional docking involves the selection of a static receptor structure for VS; however, protein structures are dynamic. Simulation of the induced fit effect in protein-ligand binding events is modeled by full articulation of the approximated large-scale low-frequency normal modes of vibration, or "low-modes," coupled with the docking of a ligand structure. Low-mode dockings of 40 cyclin dependent 2 (CDK2) inhibitors into 54 low-modes of CDK2 yielded minimum root-mean-square deviation (RMSD) values of 1.82 – 1.20 Å when compared to known coordinate data. The choice of pose is currently limited to docking score, however, with ligand pose RMSD values of 3.87 – 2.07 Å. When compared to corresponding traditional dockings with RMSD values of 5.89 – 2.33 Å, low-mode docking was more accurate.

The last discussion involves the rational docking of a cyclic peptide to the murine double minute 2 (MDM2) oncoprotein. The affinity for a cyclic peptide (synthesized by Priyesh Jain, McLaughin Lab, University of South Florida), PJ-8-73, in MDM2 was found to be within an order of magnitude of a cyclic peptide from the Robinson Lab at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Both are Β-hairpin cyclic peptides with IC50 values of 650 nm and 140 nm, respectively. Using the co-crystalized structure of the Robinson peptide (PDB 2AXI), we modeled the McLaughlin peptide based on an important interaction of the 6-chloro-tryptophan residue of the Robinson peptide occupying the same pocket in MDM2 as the tryptophan residue by the native p53 transactivation helical domain. By preserving this interaction in initial cyclic peptide poses, the resulting pose of PJ-8-73 structure in MDM2 possessed comparable active site residue contacts and surface area.

These protocols will aid medical research by using computer technology to reduce cost and time. VTS utilizes a unique structural and statistical calibration to virtually assay thousands of protein structures to predict high affinity binding. Determining unintended protein targets aids in creating more effective drugs. In low-mode docking, the accuracy of virtual screening was increased by including the fundamental motions of proteins. This newfound accuracy can decrease false negative results common in virtual screening. Lastly, docking techniques, usually for small molecules, were applied to larger peptide molecules. These modifications allow for the prediction of peptide therapeutics in protein-protein interaction modulation, a growing interest in medicine. Impactful in their own ways, these procedures contribute to the discovery of drugs, whether they are small molecules or cyclic peptides.