Field of Science

Conformations of the stevastelins: A reassessment
Shameless self-promotion: my paper on the conformational analysis of cyclic antiviral peptides called stevastelins is now online on the Biopolymers site. Here's a brief overview.

The stevastelins are cyclic peptides that show promising antiviral activity against the vaccinia viral VHR phosphatase. These peptides are phosphorylated in vivo before they can inhibit their target protein. A group in Germany previously did a meticulous analysis of four diastereometric analogs of these peptides which included their synthesis, biological characterization and conformational analysis. However, the conformational analysis was done using force field conformational searches from a single force field, constrained by variables from the NMR data (coupling constant derived dihedral angles and NOESY derived distances). Using such a protocol, the group concluded that each of the four diastereomers exists as a single conformational family in solution.

The problem with constrained conformational searches (or constrained molecular dynamics for that matter) is that they constitute a rather self-fulfilling exercise, with the assumption that there is in fact a single conformation of the molecule under question. However, as I have often discussed on this blog, any molecule with a couple of rotatable bonds is going to exist as multiple conformers in solution, so an assumption of a single conformation would be fuzzy unless supported by more data. NMR by itself is of scant value in determining these conformations for thermodynamic and kinetic reasons. Plus, analyzing conformations using a single force field can be fraught with ambiguity, since every force field comes with its own set of parameters and convergence criteria. Especially trusting energies from force fields can be dangerous. In this case, the stevastelin peptides have 9 rotatable bonds each, so I thought it worthwhile to apply our previously developed and applied NAMFIS (NMR Analysis of Molecular Flexibility In Solution) methodology combining NMR variables with structures from extensive conformational searches to the enumeration of the conformational behavior of these interesting molecules.

The paper essentially describes the conformational variability obtained for each of the diastereomers. Many of the conformations are very similar to the previously postulated families, but some are quite different. There are also some striking observations that are corroborated; for instance, the use of a d-serine truly seems to 'lock' the peptides in a single conformation. Such a lock could be effected to counter the entropic penalty that a multiconformational ensemble of molecules might have to pay. The instructive general observation is that subtle changes in sterechemistry at one or two chiral centers can dramatically affect conformational behavior, a fact that continues to surprise and confound medicinal chemists. I also note that if the NMR data for the phosphorylated peptides were available, an interesting comparison of the conformational pool for the phosphorylated and unphosphorylated counterparts could be attempted. This would shed light on whether phosphorylation leads to less conformational variability or simply increases the proportion of a chosen subset of conformations of the peptides.

Comments, criticism and general feelings of chagrin are welcomed.

Jogalekar, A. (2010). Conformations of stevastelin C3 analogs: Computational deconvolution of NMR data reveals conformational heterogeneity and novel motifs Biopolymers DOI: 10.1002/bip.21504

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