Molecular Determinants of Epidermal Growth Factor Binding: A Molecular Dynamics Study

<div><p>The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a member of the receptor tyrosine kinase family that plays a role in multiple cellular processes. Activation of EGFR requires binding of a ligand on the extracellular domain to promote conformational changes leading to dimerization and transphosphorylation of intracellular kinase domains. Seven ligands are known to bind EGFR with affinities ranging from sub-nanomolar to near micromolar dissociation constants. In the case of EGFR, distinct conformational states assumed upon binding a ligand is thought to be a determining factor in activation of a downstream signaling network. Previous biochemical studies suggest the existence of both low affinity and high affinity EGFR ligands. While these studies have identified functional effects of ligand binding, high-resolution structural data are lacking. To gain a better understanding of the molecular basis of EGFR binding affinities, we docked each EGFR ligand to the putative active state extracellular domain dimer and 25.0 ns molecular dynamics simulations were performed. MM-PBSA/GBSA are efficient computational approaches to approximate free energies of protein-protein interactions and decompose the free energy at the amino acid level. We applied these methods to the last 6.0 ns of each ligand-receptor simulation. MM-PBSA calculations were able to successfully rank all seven of the EGFR ligands based on the two affinity classes: EGF>HB-EGF>TGF-α>BTC>EPR>EPG>AR. <a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0054136#s2">Results</a> from energy decomposition identified several interactions that are common among binding ligands. These findings reveal that while several residues are conserved among the EGFR ligand family, no single set of residues determines the affinity class. Instead we found heterogeneous sets of interactions that were driven primarily by electrostatic and Van der Waals forces. These results not only illustrate the complexity of EGFR dynamics but also pave the way for structure-based design of therapeutics targeting EGF ligands or the receptor itself.</p> </div>