Protein promiscuity: drug resistance and native functions--HIV-1 case.


The association of a drug with its target protein has the effect of blocking the protein activity and is termed a promiscuous function to distinguish from the protein's native function (Tawfik and associates, Nat. Genet. 37, 73-6, 2005). Obviously, a protein has not evolved naturally for drug association or drug resistance. Promiscuous protein functions exhibit unique traits of evolutionary adaptability, or evolvability, which is dependent on the induction of novel phenotypic traits by a small number of mutations. These mutations might have small effects on native functions, but large effects on promiscuous function; for example, an evolving protein could become increasingly drug resistant while maintaining its original function. Ariel Fernandez, in his opinion piece, notes that drug-binding "promiscuity" can hardly be dissociated from native functions; a dominant approach to drug discovery is the protein-native-substrate transition-state mimetic strategy. Thus, man-made ligands (e.g. drugs) have been successfully crafted to restrain enzymatic activity by focusing on the very same structural features that determine the native function. Using the successful inhibition of HIV-1 protease as an example, Fernandez illustrates how drug designers have employed naturally evolved features of the protein to suppress its activity. Based on these arguments, he dismisses the notion that drug binding is quintessentially promiscuous, even though in principle, proteins did not evolve to associate with man made ligands. In short, Fernandez argues that there may not be separate protein domains that one could term promiscuous domains. While acknowledging that drugs may bind promiscuously or in a native-like manner a la Fernandez, Tawfik maintains the role of evolutionary adaptation, even when a drug binds native-like. In the case of HIV-1 protease, drugs bind natively, and the initial onset of mutations results in drug resistance in addition to a dramatic decline in enzymatic activity and fitness of the virus. A chain of compensatory mutations follows this, and then the virus becomes fully fit and drug resistant. Ben Berkhout and Rogier Sanders subscribe to the evolution of new protein functions through gene duplication. With two identical protein domains, one domain can be released from a constraint imposed by the original function and it is thus free to move in sequence space toward a new function without loss of the original function. They emphasize that the forced evolution of drug-resistance differs significantly from the spontaneous evolution of an additional protein function. For instance, the latter process could proceed gradually on an evolutionary time scale, whereas the acquisition of drug-resistance is an all or nothing process for a virus, leading to the failure or success of therapy. They find no evidence to the thesis that resistance-mutations appear more rapidly in promiscuous domains than native domains. Berkhout and Sanders illustrate the genetic plasticity of HIV-1 by citing examples in which well-conserved amino acid residues of catalytic domains are forced to mutate under drug-pressure. HIV drug resistance biology is very complex. Instead of a viral protein, a drug can be targeted at a cellular protein. For example, Berkhout and Sanders claim, a drug targeted at the cellular protein CCR5 inhibits the binding of the viral envelope glycoprotein (Env) to CCR5. However, Env mutates so that it binds to the CCR5-drug complex and develops drug resistance. Interestingly, CCR5 has not evolved to bind to Env, but to a series of chemokines. Andrzej Kloczkowski, Taner Sen, and Bob Jernigan point out the importance of protein motions for binding. They believe it is likely that different ligands can bind to the diverse protein conformations sampled in the course of normal protein conformational fluctuations. They have been applying simple elastic network models to extract the motions as normal modes, which yield relatively small numbers of conformations that are useful for developing protein mechanisms; while these are typically small motions, for some proteins they can be quite large in scale. One of the major advantages of the approach is that only relatively small numbers of modes are important contributors to the overall motion -- so the approach provides a way to systematically map out a protein's motions. These models successfully represent the conformational fluctuations manifested in the crystallographic B-factors, and often suggest motions related to protein functional behaviors, such as those observed for reverse transcriptase, where two dominant hinges clearly relate to the processing steps -- one showing anti-correlation between the polymerase and ribonuclease H sites related to the translation and positioning of the nucleic acid chain, and another for opening and closing the polymerase site. Disordered proteins represent a more extreme case where the set of accessible conformations is much larger; thus they could offer up a broader range of possible binding forms. Whether evolution controls the functional motions for proteins remains little studied. Intriguingly, buried in the existing databases of protein-protein interactions may be information that can shed light on the extent of promiscuous binding among proteins themselves. Within these data there are cases where large numbers of diverse proteins have been shown to interact with a single protein; some of these could represent promiscuous protein-protein binding. Uncovering these promiscuous behaviors could be important for comprehending the details of how proteins can bind promiscuously to one another, and can exhibit even greater promiscuity in their binding to small molecules. The evolutionary routes, the dynamics of the target protein, and the many other aspects that need to be addressed while designing a drug that may dodge drug resistance, indicate the complexity and multi-disciplinary nature of the issue of drug resistance.




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