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We report the results of a binding free energy-based virtual screening campaign of a library of 77 α-hydroxytropolone derivatives against the challenging RNase H active site of the reverse transcriptase (RT) enzyme of human immunodeficiency virus-1. Multiple protonation states, rotamer states, and binding modalities of each compound were individually evaluated. The work involved more than 300 individual absolute alchemical binding free energy parallel molecular dynamics calculations and over 1 million CPU hours on national computing clusters and a local campus computational grid. The thermodynamic and structural measures obtained in this work rationalize a series of characteristics of this system useful for guiding future synthetic and biochemical efforts. The free energy model identified key liganddependent entropic and conformational reorganization processes difficult to capture using standard docking and scoring approaches. Binding free energy-based optimization of the lead compounds emerging from the virtual screen has yielded four compounds with very favorable binding properties, which will be the subject of further experimental investigations. This work is one of the few reported applications of advanced-binding free energy models to large-scale virtual screening and optimization projects. It further demonstrates that, with suitable algorithms and automation, advanced-binding free energy models can have a useful role in earlystage drug-discovery programs.


This article was originally published in ACS Omega, available at DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.6b00123.

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