Molecular principle of the cyclin-dependent kinase selectivity of 4-(thiazol-5-yl)-2-(phenylamino) pyrimidine-5-carbonitrile derivatives revealed by molecular modeling studies
Due to the high sequence identity of the binding pockets of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), designing highly selective inhibitors towards a specific CDK member remains a big challenge. 4-(thiazol-5-yl)-2-(phenylamino) pyrimidine derivatives are effective inhibitors of CDKs, among which the most promising inhibitor 12u demonstrates high binding affinity to CDK9 and attenuated binding affinity to other homologous kinases, such as CDK2. In this study, in order to rationalize the principle of the binding preference towards CDK9 over CDK2 and to explore crucial information that may aid the design of selective CDK9 inhibitors, MM/GBSA calculations based on conventional molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and enhanced sampling simulations (umbrella sampling and steered MD simulations) were carried out on two representative derivatives (12u and 4). The calculation results show that the binding specificity of 12u to CDK9 is primarily controlled by conformational change of the G-loop and variation of the van der Waals interactions. Furthermore, the enhanced sampling simulations revealed the different reaction coordinates and transient interactions of inhibitors 12u and 4 as they dissociate from the binding pockets of CDK9 and CDK2. The physical principles obtained from this study may facilitate the discovery and rational design of novel and specific inhibitors of CDK9.