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  1. Abstract

    The discovery of new drugs is a time consuming and expensive process. Methods such as virtual screening, which can filter out ineffective compounds from drug libraries prior to expensive experimental study, have become popular research topics. As the computational drug discovery community has grown, in order to benchmark the various advances in methodology, organizations such as the Drug Design Data Resource have begun hosting blinded grand challenges seeking to identify the best methods for ligand pose-prediction, ligand affinity ranking, and free energy calculations. Such open challenges offer a unique opportunity for researchers to partner with junior students (e.g., high school and undergraduate) to validate basic yet fundamental hypotheses considered to be uninteresting to domain experts. Here, we, a group of high school-aged students and their mentors, present the results of our participation in Grand Challenge 4 where we predicted ligand affinity rankings for the Cathepsin S protease, an important protein target for autoimmune diseases. To investigate the effect of incorporating receptor dynamics on ligand affinity rankings, we employed the Relaxed Complex Scheme, a molecular docking method paired with molecular dynamics-generated receptor conformations. We found that Cathepsin S is a difficult target for molecular docking and we explore some advancedmore »methods such as distance-restrained docking to try to improve the correlation with experiments. This project has exemplified the capabilities of high school students when supported with a rigorous curriculum, and demonstrates the value of community-driven competitions for beginners in computational drug discovery.

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  2. CC chemokine receptor 2 (CCR2) is a part of the chemokine receptor family, an important class of therapeutic targets. These class A G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are involved in mammalian signaling pathways and control cell migration toward endogenous CC chemokine ligands, named for the adjacent cysteine motif on their N terminus. Chemokine receptors and their associated ligands are involved in a wide range of diseases and thus have become important drug targets. CCR2, in particular, promotes the metastasis of cancer cells and is also implicated in autoimmunity-driven type-1 diabetes, diabetic nephropathy, multiple sclerosis, asthma, atherosclerosis, neuropathic pain, and rheumatoid arthritis. Although promising, CCR2 antagonists have been largely unsuccessful to date. Here, we investigate the effect of an orthosteric and an allosteric antagonist on CCR2 dynamics by coupling long-timescale molecular dynamics simulations with Markov-state model theory. We find that the antagonists shift CCR2 into several stable inactive conformations that are distinct from the crystal structure conformation and disrupt a continuous internal water and sodium ion pathway, preventing transitions to an active-like state. Several metastable conformations present a cryptic drug-binding pocket near the allosteric site that may be amenable to targeting with small molecules. Without antagonists, the apo dynamics reveal intermediate conformationsmore »along the activation pathway that provide insight into the basal dynamics of CCR2 and may also be useful for future drug design.

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