GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology

First Thesis Advisor

Celia A. Schiffer, Ph.D.


Protein Conformation, HIV Protease, HIV-1, Computational Biology


How proteins undergo conformational changes to bind a ligand is one of the most fundamental questions of protein biology. MD simulations provide a useful computational tool for studying the theoretical movements of protein in solution on nanosecond timescales. The results of these simulations can be used to guide experimental design. By correlating the theoretical models with the results of experimental studies, we can obtain a significant amount of information about protein dynamics. This study represents the application of both computational and traditional experimental techniques to study protein dynamics in HIV-1 protease. The results provide a novel mechanism for the conformational changes in proteins and address the role of residues outside the active site in protein dynamics. Additionally, these results are applied to the complex role of non-active site mutations in the development of drug resistance.

Chapter II examines an invariant Thr80 at the apex of the P1 loop of HIV-1, HIV-2, and simian immunodeficiency virus protease. Sequence variability associated with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is useful for inferring structural and/or functional constraints at specific residues within the viral protease. Positions that are invariant even in the presence of drug selection define critically important residues for protease function. Three protease variants (T80V, T80N, and T80S) were examined for changes in structure, dynamics, enzymatic activity, affinity for protease inhibitors, and viral infectivity. While all three variants were structurally similar to the wild type, only T80S was functionally similar. T80V significantly decreased the ability of the enzyme to cleave a peptide substrate but maintained infectivity, while T80N abolished both activity and viral infectivity. Additionally, T80N decreased the conformational flexibility of the flap region, as observed by simulations of molecular dynamics. Taken together, these data indicate that HIV-1 protease functions best when residue 80 is a small polar residue and that mutations to other amino acids significantly impair enzyme function, possibly by affecting the flexibility of the flap domain.

Chapter III focuses on residues within the hydrophobic core of each monomer in HIV-1 protease. Many hydrophobic residues located in the core of this dimeric enzyme frequently mutate in patients undergoing protease inhibitor therapy. The mechanism by which these mutations aid the development of drug resistance is not well understood. Using MD simulations, this study suggests that the hydrophobic residues outside the active site facilitate the conformational change that occurs in HIV-1 protease upon binding substrates and inhibitors. In these simulations, the core of each monomer significantly rearranges to assist in the expansion of the active site as hydrophobic core residues slide by each other, exchanging one hydrophobic contact for another. Such hydrophobic sliding may represent a general mechanism by which proteins undergo conformational changes. Mutation of these hydrophobic core residues would alter the packing of the hydrophobic core. Thus, these residues could facilitate drug resistance in HIV-1 protease by altering dynamic properties of HIV-1 protease preferentially affecting the relative affinity for inhibitors versus substrates.

Chapter IV concentrates on a residue in the flap region, Ile54, which is significantly correlated with the development of drug resistance. A series of patient sequences containing the mutation I54A were evaluated for the most frequently occurring co-mutations. I54A was found to occur with mutations that were previously correlated with I54V mutations, including L10I, G48V, and V82A. Based on the results of this evaluation, the binding properties of five variant proteases were investigated: MDI54V, MDRI54A, I54V, I54A, and G48V. MDRI54V and MDRI54Aeach contained the mutations L10I, G48V, and V82A, and either I54V or I54A, respectively. The other variants contained only the mutation indicated. Mutations at Ile54 were able to significantly impact the thermodynamics of binding to saquinavir, amprenavir, and the recently approved darunavir. The magnitude of this impact depended on the presence or absence of other drug resistance mutations, including another mutation in the flap region, G48V. Therefore, while residues 48 and 54 are not in contact with each other, mutations at both sites had a cooperative effect that varies between inhibitors.

The results demonstrate that residues outside the active site of HIV-1 protease are clearly important to enzyme function, possibly through their role in the dynamic properties of protease. Mutations outside the active site of protease that are known to cause drug resistance could alter the conformational flexibility of protease. While the role of protein dynamics in molecular recognition is still not fully understood, the results of this study indicate that altering the dynamic properties of a protein affects its ability to recognize ligands. Therefore, to design better inhibitors we will have to develop a more thorough understanding of protein dynamics.



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