Modelling interaction between HIV-1 Nef and calnexin

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Background:HIV-associated atherosclerosis is a major comorbidity due, in part, to systemic effects of the virus on cholesterol metabolism. HIV protein Nef plays an important role in this pathology by impairing maturation of the main cellular cholesterol transporter ATP-Binding Cassette (ABCA) 1. ABCA1 maturation critically depends on calnexin, an integral endoplasmic reticulum membrane chaperone, and Nef binds to the cytoplasmic domain of calnexin and impairs interaction of calnexin with ABCA1. Overarching goal of the present study was to model Nef–calnexin interaction interface, and identify small molecule compounds potentially inhibiting this interaction.Methods:Molecular dynamics was utilized to build structure model of calnexin cytoplasmic domain, followed by global docking combined with application of QASDOM software developed by us for efficient analysis of receptor–ligand complexes. Structure-based virtual screening was performed for all sites identified by docking. A soluble analogue of a compound from the screening results list was tested for ability to down-regulate ABCA1.Results:We identified major interaction sites in calnexin and reciprocal sites in Nef. Virtual screening yielded a number of small-molecule compounds potentially blocking a calnexin site. Interestingly, one of the compounds, NSC13987, was previously identified by us as an inhibitor targeting a Nef site. An analogue of NSC13987, AMS-55, potently reversed the negative effect of Nef on ABCA1 abundance.Conclusions:We have modelled Nef–calnexin interaction, predicted small molecule compounds that can potentially inhibit this interaction, and experimentally tested one of these compounds, confirming its effectiveness. These findings provide a platform for searching for new therapeutic agents to treat HIV-associated comorbidities.

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