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In bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology

The nation's opioid overdose deaths reached an all-time high in 2021. The majority of deaths are due to synthetic opioids represented by fentanyl. Naloxone, which is an FDA-approved reversal agent, antagonizes opioids through competitive binding at the mu-opioid receptor (mOR). Thus, knowledge of opioid's residence time is important for assessing the effectiveness of naloxone. Here we estimated the residence times of 15 fentanyl and 4 morphine analogs using metadynamics, and compared them with the most recent measurement of the opioid kinetic, dissociation, and naloxone inhibitory constants (Mann, Li et al, Clin. Pharmacol. Therapeut. 2022). Importantly, the microscopic simulations offered a glimpse at the common binding mechanism and molecular determinants of dissociation kinetics for fentanyl analogs. The insights inspired us to develop a machine learning (ML) approach to analyze the kinetic impact of fentanyl's substituents based on the interactions with mOR residues. This proof-of-concept approach is general; for example, it may be used to tune ligand residence times in computer-aided drug discovery.

Mahinthichaichan Paween, Liu Ruibin, Vo Quynh N, Ellis Christopher R, Stavitskaya Lidiya, Shen Jana