Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Pharmaceutical Sciences

Research Advisor

Richard E. Lee, Ph.D.


Duane D. Miller, Ph.D. Bob M. Moore II, Ph.D. Brien L. Neudeck, Pharm.D. Stephen W. White, Ph.D.


Virtual Screening, Dihydropteroate Synthase, QSAR, Structure-Based Drug Design, Ligand-Based Drug Design, Molecular Dynamics


The use of computer based techniques in the design of novel therapeutic agents is a rapidly emerging field. Although the drug-design techniques utilized by Computational Medicinal Chemists vary greatly, they can roughly be classified into structure-based and ligand-based approaches. Structure-based methods utilize a solved structure of the design target, protein or DNA, usually obtained by X-ray or NMR methods to design or improve compounds with activity against the target. Ligand-based methods use active compounds with known affinity for a target that may yet be unresolved. These methods include Pharmacophore-based searching for novel active compounds or Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship (QSAR) studies. The research presented here utilized both structure and ligand-based methods against two bacterial targets: Bacillus anthracis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The first part of this thesis details our efforts to design novel inhibitors of the enzyme dihydropteroate synthase from B. anthracis using crystal structures with known inhibitors bound. The second part describes a QSAR study that was performed using a series of novel nitrofuranyl compounds with known, whole-cell, inhibitory activity against M. tuberculosis.

Dihydropteroate synthase (DHPS) catalyzes the addition of p-amino benzoic acid (pABA) to dihydropterin pyrophosphate (DHPP) to form pteroic acid as a key step in bacterial folate biosynthesis. It is the traditional target of the sulfonamide class of antibiotics. Unfortunately, bacterial resistance and adverse effects have limited the clinical utility of the sulfonamide antibiotics. Although six bacterial crystal structures are available, the flexible loop regions that enclose pABA during binding and contain key sulfonamide resistance sites have yet to be visualized in their functional conformation. To gain a new understanding of the structural basis of sulfonamide resistance, the molecular mechanism of DHPS action, and to generate a screening structure for high-throughput virtual screening, molecular dynamics simulations were applied to model the conformations of the unresolved loops in the active site. Several series of molecular dynamics simulations were designed and performed utilizing enzyme substrates and inhibitors, a transition state analog, and a pterin-sulfamethoxazole adduct. The positions of key mutation sites conserved across several bacterial species were closely monitored during these analyses. These residues were shown to interact closely with the sulfonamide binding site. The simulations helped us gain new understanding of the positions of the flexible loops during inhibitor binding that has allowed the development of a DHPS structural model that could be used for high-through put virtual screening (HTVS). Additionally, insights gained on the location and possible function of key mutation sites on the flexible loops will facilitate the design of new, potent inhibitors of DHPS that can bypass resistance mutations that render sulfonamides inactive.

Prior to performing high-throughput virtual screening, the docking and scoring functions to be used were validated using established techniques against the B. anthracis DHPS target. In this validation study, five commonly used docking programs, FlexX, Surflex, Glide, GOLD, and DOCK, as well as nine scoring functions, were evaluated for their utility in virtual screening against the novel pterin binding site. Their performance in ligand docking and virtual screening against this target was examined by their ability to reproduce a known inhibitor conformation and to correctly detect known active compounds seeded into three separate decoy sets. Enrichment was demonstrated by calculated enrichment factors at 1% and Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curves. The effectiveness of post-docking relaxation prior to rescoring and consensus scoring were also evaluated. Of the docking and scoring functions evaluated, Surflex with SurflexScore and Glide with GlideScore performed best overall for virtual screening against the DHPS target.

The next phase of the DHPS structure-based drug design project involved high-throughput virtual screening against the DHPS structural model previously developed and docking methodology validated against this target. Two general virtual screening methods were employed. First, large, virtual libraries were pre-filtered by 3D pharmacophore and modified Rule-of-Three fragment constraints. Nearly 5 million compounds from the ZINC databases were screened generating 3,104 unique, fragment-like hits that were subsequently docked and ranked by score. Second, fragment docking without pharmacophore filtering was performed on almost 285,000 fragment-like compounds obtained from databases of commercial vendors. Hits from both virtual screens with high predicted affinity for the pterin binding pocket, as determined by docking score, were selected for in vitro testing. Activity and structure-activity relationship of the active fragment compounds have been developed. Several compounds with micromolar activity were identified and taken to crystallographic trials.

Finally, in our ligand-based research into M. tuberculosis active agents, a series of nitrofuranylamide and related aromatic compounds displaying potent activity was investigated utilizing 3-Dimensional Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship (3D-QSAR) techniques. Comparative Molecular Field Analysis (CoMFA) and Comparative Molecular Similarity Indices Analysis (CoMSIA) methods were used to produce 3D-QSAR models that correlated the Minimum Inhibitory Concentration (MIC) values against M. tuberculosis with the molecular structures of the active compounds. A training set of 95 active compounds was used to develop the models, which were then evaluated by a series of internal and external cross-validation techniques. A test set of 15 compounds was used for the external validation. Different alignment and ionization rules were investigated as well as the effect of global molecular descriptors including lipophilicity (cLogP, LogD), Polar Surface Area (PSA), and steric bulk (CMR), on model predictivity. Models with greater than 70% predictive ability, as determined by external validation and high internal validity (cross validated r2 > .5) were developed. Incorporation of lipophilicity descriptors into the models had negligible effects on model predictivity. The models developed will be used to predict the activity of proposed new structures and advance the development of next generation nitrofuranyl and related nitroaromatic anti-tuberculosis agents.