Molecular docking serves as an important tool in modeling protein-ligand interactions. Most of the docking approaches treat the protein receptor as rigid and move the ligand in the binding pocket through an energy minimization, which is an incorrect approach as proteins are flexible and undergo conformational changes upon ligand binding. However, modeling receptor backbone flexibility in docking is challenging and computationally expensive due to the large conformational space that needs to be sampled.
A novel flexible docking approach called BP-Dock (Backbone Perturbation docking) was developed to overcome this challenge. BP-Dock integrates both backbone and side chain conformational changes of a protein through a multi-scale approach. In BP-Dock, the residues along a protein chain are perturbed mimicking the binding induced event, with a small Brownian kick, one at a time. The fluctuation response profile of the chain upon these perturbations is computed by Perturbation Response Scanning (PRS) to generate multiple receptor conformations for ensemble docking. To evaluate the performance of BP-Dock, this approach was applied to a large and diverse dataset of unbound structures as receptors. Furthermore, the protein-peptide docking of PICK1-PDZ proteins was investigated. This study elucidates the determinants of PICK1-PDZ binding that plays crucial roles in numerous neurodegenerative disorders. BP-Dock approach was also extended to the challenging problem of protein-glycan docking and applied to analyze the energetics of glycan recognition in Cyanovirin-N (CVN), a cyanobacterial lectin that inhibits HIV by binding to its highly glycosylated envelope protein gp120. This study provide the energetic contribution of the individual residues lining the binding pocket of CVN and explore the effect of structural flexibility in the hinge region of CVN on glycan binding, which are also verified experimentally. Overall, these successful applications of BP-Dock highlight the importance of modeling backbone flexibility in docking that can have important implications in defining the binding properties of protein-ligand interactions.
Finally, an induced fit docking approach called Adaptive BP-Dock is presented that allows both protein and ligand conformational sampling during the docking. Adaptive BP-Dock can provide a faster and efficient docking approach for the virtual screening of novel targets for rational drug design and aid our understanding of protein-ligand interactions.