Sci Rep 7 (1) 6398 [2017-07-25; online 2017-07-25]
Fragment-based lead discovery is becoming an increasingly popular strategy for drug discovery. Fragment screening identifies weakly binding compounds that require optimization to become high-affinity leads. As design of leads from fragments is challenging, reliable computational methods to guide optimization would be invaluable. We evaluated using molecular dynamics simulations and the free energy perturbation method (MD/FEP) in fragment optimization for the A2A adenosine receptor, a pharmaceutically relevant G protein-coupled receptor. Optimization of fragments exploring two binding site subpockets was probed by calculating relative binding affinities for 23 adenine derivatives, resulting in strong agreement with experimental data (R2 = 0.78). The predictive power of MD/FEP was significantly better than that of an empirical scoring function. We also demonstrated the potential of the MD/FEP to assess multiple binding modes and to tailor the thermodynamic profile of ligands during optimization. Finally, MD/FEP was applied prospectively to optimize three nonpurine fragments, and predictions for 12 compounds were evaluated experimentally. The direction of the change in binding affinity was correctly predicted in a majority of the cases, and agreement with experiment could be improved with rigorous parameter derivation. The results suggest that MD/FEP will become a powerful tool in structure-driven optimization of fragments to lead candidates.