Water Mapping and Scoring approaches to predict the role of Hydration sites in Binding Affinity of PAK1 inhibitors

Aim: This study aims to develop and establish a computational model that can identify potent molecules for p21-activating kinase 1 (PAK1).

Background: PAK1 is a well-established drug target that has been explored for various therapeutic interventions. Control of this protein requires an indispensable inhibitor to curb the structural changes and subsequent activation of signalling effectors responsible for the progression of diseases, such as cancer, inflammatory, viral, and neurological disorders.

Objective: To establish a computational model that could identify active molecules which will further provide a platform for developing potential PAK1 inhibitors.

Method: A congeneric series of 27 compounds was considered for this study with Ki (nm) covering a minimum of 3 log range. The compounds were developed based on a previously reported Group-I PAK inhibitor, namely G-5555. The 27 compounds were subjected to the SP and XP mode of docking, to understand the binding mode, its conformation and interaction patterns. To understand the relevance of biological activity from computational approaches, the compounds were scored against generated water maps to obtain WM/MM ΔG binding energy. Moreover, molecular dynamics analysis was performed for the highly active compound, to understand the conformational variability and complex's stability. We then evaluate the predictable binding pose obtained from the docking studies.

Result: From the SP and XP modes of docking, the common interaction pattern with the amino acid residues Arg299 (cation-π), Glu345 (Aromatic hydrogen bond), hinge region Leu347, salt bridges Asp393 and Asp407 was observed, among the congeneric compounds. The interaction pattern was compared with the co-crystal inhibitor FRAX597 of the PAK1 crystal structure (PDB id: 4EQC). The correlation with different docking parameters in the SP and XP modes was insignificant and thereby revealed that the SP and XP's scoring functions could not predict the active compounds. This was due to the limitations in the docking methodology that neglected the receptor flexibility and desolvation parameters. Hence, to recognise the desolvation and explicit solvent effects, as well as to study the Structure-Activity Relationships (SARs) extensively, WaterMap (WM) calculations were performed on the congeneric compounds. Based on displaceable unfavourable hydration sites (HS) and their associated thermodynamic properties, the WM calculations facilitated to understand the significance of correlation in the folds of activity of highly (19 and 17), moderate (16 and 21) and less active (26 and 25) compounds. Furthermore, the scoring function from WaterMap, namely WM/MM, led to a significant R2 value of 0.72, due to a coupled conjunction with MM treatment and displaced unfavourable waters at the binding site. To check the "optimal binding conformation", molecular dynamics simulation was carried out with the highly active compound 19 to explain the binding mode, stability, interactions, solvent accessible area, etc., which could support the predicted conformation with bioactive conformation.

Conclusion: This study determined the best scoring function, established SARs and predicted active molecules through a computational model. This will contribute towards development of the most potent PAK1 inhibitors.