A Computational perspective on the concerted cleavage mechanism of the natural targets of HIV-1 protease.
Lawal, Monsurat Motunrayo.
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One infectious disease that has had both a profound health and cultural impact on the human race in recent decades is the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). A major breakthrough in the treatment of HIV-1 was the use of drugs inhibiting specific enzymes necessary for the replication of the virus. Among these enzymes is HIV-1 protease (PR), which is an important degrading enzyme necessary for the proteolytic cleavage of the Gag and Gag-Pol polyproteins, required for the development of mature virion proteins. The mechanism of action of the HIV-1 PR on the proteolysis of these polyproteins has been a subject of research over the past three decades. Most investigations on this subject have been dedicated to exploring the reaction mechanism of HIV-1 PR on its targets as a stepwise general acid-base process with little attention on a concerted model. One of the shortcomings of the stepwise reaction pathway is the existence of more than two TS moieties, which have led to varying opinions on the exact rate-determining step of the reaction and the protonation pattern of the catalytic aspartate group at the HIV-1 PR active site. Also, there is no consensus on the actual recognition mechanism of the natural substrates by the HIV-1 PR. By means of concerted transition state (TS) structural models, the recognition mode and the reaction mechanism of HIV-1 PR with its natural targets were investigated in this present study. The investigation was designed to elucidate the cleavage of natural substrates by HIV-1 PR using the concerted TS model through the application of computational methods to unravel the recognition and reaction process, compute activation parameters and elucidate quantum chemical properties of the system. Quantum mechanics (QM) methods including the density functional theory (DFT) models and Hartree-Fock (HF), molecular mechanics (MM) and hybrid QM/MM were employed to provide better insight in this topic. Based on experience with concerted TS modelling, the six-membered ring TS structure was proposed. Using a small model system and QM methods (DFT and HF), the enzymatic mechanism of HIV-1 PR was studied as a general acid-base model having both catalytic aspartate group participating and water molecule attacking the natural substrate synchronously. The natural substrate scissile bond strength was also investigated via changes of electronic effects. The proposed concerted six-membered ring TS mechanism of the natural substrate within the entire enzyme was studied using hybrid QM/MM; “Our own N-layered Integrated molecular Orbital and molecular Mechanics” (ONIOM) method. This investigation led us to a new perspective in which an acyclic concerted pathway provided a better approach to the subject than the proposed six-membered model. The natural substrate recognition pattern was therefore investigated using the concerted acyclic TS modelling to examine if HIV-1 (South Africa subtype C, C-SA and subtype B) PRs recognize their substrates in the same manner using ONIOM approach. A major outcome in the present investigation is the computational modelling of a new, potentially active, substrate-based inhibitor through the six-membered concerted cyclic TS modelling and a small system. By modelling the entire enzyme—substrate system using a hybrid QM/MM (ONIOM) method, three different pathways were obtained. (1) A concerted acyclic TS structure, (2) a concerted six-membered cyclic TS model and (3) another sixmembered ring TS model involving two water molecules. The activation free energies obtained for the first and the last pathways were in agreement with in vitro HIV-1 PR hydrolysis data. The mechanism that provides marginally the lowest activation barrier involves an acyclic TS model with one water molecule at the HIV-1 PR active site. The outcome of the study provides a plausible theoretical benchmark for the concerted enzymatic mechanism of HIV-1 PRs which could be applied to related homodimeric protease and perhaps other enzymatic processes. Applying the one-step concerted acyclic catalytic mechanism for two HIV-1 PR subtypes, the recognition phenomena of both enzyme and substrate were studied. It was observed that the studied HIV-1 PR subtypes (B and C-SA) recognize and cleave at both scissile and non-scissile regions of the natural substrate sequences and maintaining preferential specificity for the scissile bonds with characteristic lower activation free energies. Future studies on the reaction mechanism of HIV-1 PR and natural substrates should involve the application of advanced computational techniques to provide plausible answers to some unresolved perspectives. Theoretical investigations on the enzymatic mechanism of HIV-1 PR— natural substrate in years to come, would likely involve the application of sophisticated computational techniques aimed at exploring more than the energetics of the system. The possibility of integrated computational algorithms which do not involve partitioning/restraining/constraining/cropped model systems of the enzyme—substrate mechanism would likely surface in future to accurately elucidate the HIV-1 PR catalytic process on natural substrates/ligands.