The blood protein von Willebrand factor (VWF) is a large multimeric protein that, when activated, binds to blood platelets tethering them to the site of vascular injury initiating blood coagulation. This process is critical for the normal haemostatic response, but especially under inflammatory conditions it is thought to be a major player in pathological thrombus formation. For this reason, VWF has been the target for the development of anti-thrombotic therapeutics. However, it is challenging to prevent pathological thrombus formation while still allowing normal physiological blood coagulation as currently available anti-thrombotic therapeutics are known to cause unwanted bleeding in particular intracranial haemorrhage. This work explores the possibility of inhibiting VWF selectively under the inflammatory conditions present during pathological thrombus formation. In particular, the A2 domain of VWF is known to inhibit the neighboring A1 domain from binding to the platelet surface receptor GpIb α and this auto-inhibitory mechanism has been shown to be removed by oxidizing agents released during inflammation. Hence, finding drug molecules that bind at the interface between A1 and A2 only under oxidizing conditions could restore such auto-inhibitory mechanism. Here, by using a combination of computational docking, molecular dynamics simulations and free energy perturbation calculations, a ligand from the ZINC15 database was identified that binds at the A1A2 interface with the interaction being stronger under oxidizing conditions. The results provide a framework for the discovery of drug molecules that bind to a protein selectively in inflammatory conditions.
The bacterial adhesin FimH is a model for the study of protein allostery because its structure has been resolved in multiple configurations, including the active and the inactive state. FimH consists of a pilin domain (PD) that anchors it to the rest of the fimbria and an allosterically regulated lectin domain (LD) that binds mannose on the surface of infected cells. Under normal conditions, the two domains are docked to each other and LD binds mannose weakly. However, in the presence of tensile force generated by shear the domains separate and conformational changes propagate across LD resulting in a stronger bond to mannose. Recently, the crystallographic structure of a variant of FimH has been resolved, called FimH FocH, where PD contains 10 mutations near the inter-domain interface. Although the X-ray structures of FimH and FimH FocH are almost identical, experimental evidence shows that FimH FocH is activated even in the absence of shear. Here, molecular dynamics simulations combined with the Jarzinski equality were used to investigate the discrepancy between the crystallographic structures and the functional assays. The results indicate that the free energy barrier of the unbinding process between LD and PD is drastically reduced in FimH FocH. Rupture of an inter-domain hydrogen bond involving R166 constitutes a rate limiting step of the domains separation process and occurs more readily in FimH FocH than FimH. In conclusion, the mutations in FimH FocH shift the equilibrium towards an equal occupancy of bound and unbound states for LD and PD by reducing a rate limiting step.