18 December 2017

New tools for NMR: 2017 edition

NMR was the first practical fragment-finding method, and continues to be popular. Just over the past year we’ve discussed several new techniques, (here, here, and here), and this post highlights three more.

In Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., Jesus Angulo and colleagues at the University of East Anglia describe differential epitope mapping by STD NMR (DEEP-STD NMR). STD NMR, the most popular of ligand-detected methods according to our poll, can provide some information as to which portions of a ligand are close to a protein, but doesn’t show where on a protein the ligand binds. In DEEP-STD NMR, two separate NMR experiments are conducted and the results compared to provide this information.

The researchers provide two implementation of the technique. In the first, the protein is “irradiated” at two different frequencies; for example, the aliphatic and aromatic regions. Protein residues that are directly irradiated will show a stronger STD to ligand protons than those that are indirectly irradiated, thus revealing whether one region of the ligand is closer to an aromatic or an aliphatic amino acid side chain. If the structure of the protein is known, this can then reveal the orientation of the ligand within the binding site. A similar experiment can be done using H2O vs D2O to determine whether a portion of a ligand is in close proximity to polar residues in the protein.

Water is the subject of the second paper, in J. Med. Chem., by Robert Konrat and colleagues at the University of Vienna and Boehringer Ingelheim. As we’ve previously noted, water often plays a critical role in protein-ligand interactions. The new method, called LOGSY titration, involves doing a series of WaterLOGSY experiments at different protein concentrations and plotting the signals for each proton in the ligand as a function of protein concentration; ligand protons close to the protein show steeper slopes. The researchers examine pairs of bromodomain ligands and demonstrate that LOGSY titration can confirm changes in binding mode previously seen by crystallography. The technique could also reveal what portions of the ligands make interactions with disordered water molecules, which are more difficult to detect in crystal structures.

Both of these techniques provide useful but incomplete information about ligand binding modes. A paper in J. Am. Chem. Soc. by Andreas Lingel and his Novartis colleagues describes how to generate more detailed models. The researchers used a deuterated protein in which all methyl groups (in methionine, isoleucine, leucine, valine, alanine, and threonine) were 13C-labeled. Multiple intermolecular NOEs between the protein and several previously characterized ligands were collected and the resulting distances fed into modeling software to produce good agreement with the known structures. More significantly, the researchers were able to use the method prospectively with two weak (0.9 and 2.8 mM) fragments. The binding models were sufficiently accurate to guide chemical optimization, resulting in molecules with 30-50 µM affinities. Subsequent crystal structures revealed that these bound as predicted. Impressively, this was done on a protein that forms 115 kD hexamers – larger than those typically tackled by NMR.

Teddy would normally close his NMR posts by stating – usually quite forcefully – whether he felt the technique was practical or not. I’m no NMR spectroscopist, so I’ll throw this question out to readers – do you plan to try any of these approaches?

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