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In The Journal of chemical physics

Determining the drug-target residence time (RT) is of major interest in drug discovery given that this kinetic parameter often represents a better indicator of in vivo drug efficacy than binding affinity. However, obtaining drug-target unbinding rates poses significant challenges, both computationally and experimentally. This is particularly palpable for complex systems like G Protein-Coupled Receptors (GPCRs) whose ligand unbinding typically requires very long timescales oftentimes inaccessible by standard molecular dynamics simulations. Enhanced sampling methods offer a useful alternative, and their efficiency can be further improved by using machine learning tools to identify optimal reaction coordinates. Here, we test the combination of two machine learning techniques, automatic mutual information noise omission and reweighted autoencoded variational Bayes for enhanced sampling, with infrequent metadynamics to efficiently study the unbinding kinetics of two classical drugs with different RTs in a prototypic GPCR, the μ-opioid receptor. Dissociation rates derived from these computations are within one order of magnitude from experimental values. We also use the simulation data to uncover the dissociation mechanisms of these drugs, shedding light on the structures of rate-limiting transition states, which, alongside metastable poses, are difficult to obtain experimentally but important to visualize when designing drugs with a desired kinetic profile.

Lamim Ribeiro João Marcelo, Provasi Davide, Filizola Marta