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Mechanistic insights and in silico studies on selected G protein-coupled receptors implicated in HIV and neurological disorders.

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G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the largest membrane protein receptor superfamily involved in a wide range of physiological processes. GPCRs form the major class of drug targets for a diverse array of pathophysiological conditions. Consequently, GPCRs are recognised as drug targets for the treatment of various diseases, including neurological disorders, cardiovascular conditions, oncology, diabetes, and HIV. The recent advancement in GPCR structure resolutions has provided novel avenues to understand their molecular basis of signal transduction, ligand recognition and ligand-receptor interactions. These advances provide a framework for the structure-based discovery of new drugs in targeting GPCRs implicated in the pathogenesis of various human diseases. In this thesis, the interactions of inhibitors at two dopamine receptor subtypes and C-C chemokine receptor 5 (CCR5) of the Class A GPCR family were investigated. Dopamine receptors and CCR5 are validated GPCR targets implicated in neurological disorders and HIV disease, respectively. The lack of structural information on these receptors limited our comprehension of their antagonists’ structural dynamics and binding mechanisms. The recently solved crystal structures for these receptors have necessitated further investigations in their ligand-receptor interactions to obtain novel insights that may assist drug discovery towards these receptors. This thesis comprehensively investigated the binding profiles of atypical antipsychotics (class I and class II) at the first crystal structure of the D2 dopamine receptor (D2DR). The class I antipsychotics exhibited binding poses and dynamics different from the class II antipsychotics with disparate interaction mechanistic at D2DR active site. The class II antipsychotics were remarkably observed to establish a recurrent and vital interaction with Asp114 via strong hydrogen bond interactions. Furthermore, compared to class I antipsychotics, the class II antipsychotics were found to engage favourably with the deep hydrophobic pocket of D2DR. In addition, the structural basis and atomistic binding mechanistic of the preferential selective inhibition at D3DR over D2DR were explored. This study investigated two small molecules (R-VK4-40 and Y-QA31) with substantial selectivity (> 180-fold) for D3DR over D2DR. The selective antagonists adopted shallow binding modes at D3DR while demonstrating a deep hydrophobic pocket binding at D2DR. Also, the vital roles and contribution of critical residues to the selective binding of R-VK4-40 and Y-QA31were identified in D3DR. Structural and binding free energy analyses further discovered distinct stabilising effects of the selective antagonists on the secondary architecture and binding profiles of D3DR relative to D2DR. Furthermore, the atomistic molecular interaction mechanism of how slight structural modification between novel derivatives of 1-heteroaryl-1,3-propanediamine (Compd-21 and - 34) and Maraviroc significantly affects their binding profiles toward CCR5 were elucidated. This study utilised explicit lipid bilayer molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and advanced analyses to explore these inhibitory disparities. The thiophene moiety substitution common to Compd-21 and -34 was found to enhance their CCR5-inhibitory activities due to complementary high-affinity interactions with residues critical for the gp120 V3 loop binding. The study further highlights the structural modifications that may improve inhibitor competitiveness with the gp120 V3 loop. Finally, structure-based virtual screening of antiviral chemical database was performed to identify potential compounds as HIV-1 entry inhibitors targeting CCR5. The identified compounds made pertinent interactions with CCR5 residues critical for the HIV-1 gp120-V3 loop binding. Their predicted in silico physicochemical and pharmacokinetic descriptors were within the acceptable range for drug-likeness. Further structural optimisations and biochemical testing of the proposed compounds may assist in the discovery of novel HIV-1 therapy. The studies presented in this thesis provide novel mechanistic and in silico perspective on the ligand-receptor interactions of GPCRs. The findings highlighted in this thesis may assist in further research towards the identification of novel drug molecules towards CCR5 and D2-like dopamine receptor subtypes.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.