Computational study of HIV gp120 as a target for polyanionic entry inhibitors: Exploiting the V3 loop region

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Multiple approaches are being utilized to develop therapeutics to treat HIV infection. One approach is designed to inhibit entry of HIV into host cells, with a target being the viral envelope glycoprotein, gp120. Polyanionic compounds have been shown to be effective in inhibiting HIV entry, with a mechanism involving electrostatic interactions with the V3 loop of gp120 being proposed. In this study, we applied computational methods to elucidate molecular interactions between the repeat unit of the precisely alternating polyanion, Poly(4,40-stilbenedicarboxylate- alt±maleic acid) (DCSti-alt-MA) and the V3 loop of gp120 from strains of HIV against which these polyanions were previously tested (IIIb, BaL, 92UG037, JR-CSF) as well as two strains for which gp120 crystal structures are available (YU2, 2B4C). Homology modeling was used to create models of the gp120 proteins. Using monomers of the gp120 protein, we applied extensive molecular dynamics simulations to obtain dominant morphologies that represent a variety of open-closed states of the V3 loop to examine the interaction of 112 ligands of the repeating units of DCSti-alt-MA docked to the V3 loop and surrounding residues. Using the distance between the V1/V2 and V3 loops of gp120 as a metric, we revealed through MD simulations that gp120 from the lab-adapted strains (BaL and IIIb), which are more susceptible to inhibition by DCSti-alt-MA, clearly transitioned to the closed state in one replicate of each simulation set, whereas none of the replicates from the Tier II strains (92UG037 and JR-CSF) did so. Docking repeat unit microspecies to the gp120 protein before and after MD simulation enabled identification of residues that were key for binding. Notably, only a few residues were found to be important for docking both before and after MD simulation as a result of the conformational heterogeneity provided by the simulations. Consideration of the residues that were consistently involved in interactions with the ligand revealed the importance of both hydrophilic and hydrophobic moieties of the ligand for effective binding. The results also suggest that polymers of DCSti-alt-MA with repeating units of different configurations may have advantages for therapeutic efficacy.