Understanding microscopic binding of macrophage migration inhibitory factor with phenolic hydrazones by molecular docking, molecular dynamics simulations and free energy calculations†
Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), an immunoregulatory protein, is a potential target for a number of inflammatory diseases. In the current work, the interactions between MIF and a series of phenolic hydrazones were studied by molecular docking, molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, binding free energy calculations, and binding energy decomposition analysis to determine the structural requirement for achieving favorable biological activity of phenolic hydrazones. First, molecular docking was used to predict the binding modes of inhibitors in the binding site of MIF. The good correlation between the predicted docking scores and the experimental activities shows that the binding conformations of the inhibitors in the active site of MIF are well predicted. Moreover, our results suggest that the flexibility of MIF is essential in ligand binding process. Then, MD simulations and MM/GBSA free energy calculations were employed to determine the dynamic binding process and compare the binding modes of the inhibitors with different activities. The predicted binding free energies given by MM/GBSA are not well correlated with the experimental activities for the two subsets of the inhibitors; however, for each subset, a good correlation between the predicted binding free energies and the experimental activities is achieved. The MM/GBSA free energy decomposition analysis highlights the importance of hydrophobic residues for the MIF binding of the studied inhibitors. Based on the essential factors for MIF-inhibitor interactions derived from the theoretical predictions, some derivatives were designed and the higher inhibitory activities of several candidates were confirmed by molecular docking studies. The structural insights obtained from our study are useful for designing potent inhibitors of MIF.