Mechanism of ligand recognition by human ACE2 receptor

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Apurba Bhattarai

Graduate Research Assistant and Ph.D. Candidate, University of Kansas

Field of Study: Biology , Published 1 Project

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 ACE2 Covid-19

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Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) plays a key role in renin-angiotensin system regulation and amino acid homeostasis. Human ACE2 acts as the receptor for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. ACE2 is also widely expressed in epithelial cells of lungs, heart, kidney and pancreas. It is considered an important drug target for treating SARS-CoV-2, as well as pulmonary diseases, heart failure, hypertension, renal diseases and diabetes. Despite the critical importance, the mechanism of ligand binding to the human ACE2 receptor remains unknown. Here, we address this challenge through all-atom simulations using a novel ligand Gaussian accelerated molecular dynamics (LiGaMD) method. Microsecond LiGaMD simulations have successfully captured both binding and unbinding of the MLN-4760 inhibitor in the ACE2 receptor. In the ligand unbound state, the ACE2 receptor samples distinct Open, Partially Open and Closed conformations. Ligand binding biases the receptor conformational ensemble towards the Closed state. The LiGaMD simulations thus suggest a conformational selection mechanism for ligand recognition by the ACE2 receptor. Our simulation findings are expected to facilitate rational drug design of ACE2 against coronaviruses and other related human diseases.

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