Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Wayne C. Guida, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Henry L. Woodcock, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark McLaughlin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Craig Doupnik, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Donald Haynie, Ph.D.


FixL, Ionchannels, Tensin, Tertiapin, Virtual screening


In this thesis, molecular dynamics simulations, molecular docking, and homology modeling methods have been used in combination to design possible inhibitors as well as to study the structural changes and function of target proteins related to diseases that today are in the spotlight of drug discovery. The inwardly rectifying potassium (Kir) channels constitute the first target in this study; they are involved in cardiac problems. On the other hand, tensin, a promising target in cancer research, is the second target studied here.

The first chapter includes a brief update on computational methods and the current proposal of the combination of MD simulations and docking techniques, a procedure that is applied for the engineering of a new blocker for Kir2.1 ion channels and for the design of possible inhibitors for Tensin.

Chapter two focuses in Kir ion channels that belong to the family of potassium-selective ion channels which have a wide range of physiological activity. The resolved crystal structure of a eukaryotic Kir channel was used as a secondary structure template to build the Kir-channels whose crystallographic structures are unavailable. Tertiapin (TPN), a 21 a.a. peptide toxin found in honey bee venom that blocks a type of Kir channels with high affinity was also used to design new Kir channel blockers. The computational methods homology modeling and protein-protein docking were employed to yield Kir channel-TPN complexes that showed good binding affinity scores for TPN-sensitive Kir channels, and less favorable for Kir channels insensitive to TPN block. The binding pocket of the insensitive Kir-channels was studied to engineer novel TPN-based peptides that show favorable binding scores via thermodynamic mutant-cycle analysis.

Chapter three is focused on the building of homology models for Tensin 1, 2 and 3 domains C2 and PTP using the PTEN X-ray crystallographic structure as a secondary structure template. Molecular docking was employed for the screening of druggable small molecules and molecular dynamics simulations were also used to study the tensin structure and function in order to give some new insights of structural data for experimental binding and enzymatic assays.

Chapter four describes the conformational changes of FixL, a protein of bradyrhizobia japonicum. FixL is a dimer known as oxygen sensor that is involved in the nitrogen fixation process of root plants regulating the expression of genes. Ligand behavior has been investigated after the dissociation event, also the structural changes that are involved in the relaxation to the deoxy state. Molecular dynamics simulations of the CO-bound and CO-unbound bjFixL heme domain were performed during 10 ns in crystal and solution environments then analyzed using Principal Component Analysis (PCA). Our results show that the diffusion of the ligand is influenced by internal motions of the bound structure of the protein before CO dissociation, implying an important role for Arg220. In turn, the location of the ligand after dissociation affects the conformational changes within the protein. The study suggests the presence of a cavity close to the methine bridge C of the heme group in agreement with spectroscopic probes and that Arg220 acts as a gate of the heme cavity.