Exploring Molecular Mechanisms of Paradoxical Activation in the BRAF Kinase Dimers: Atomistic Simulations of Conformational Dynamics and Modeling of Allosteric Communication Networks and Signaling Pathways

PLoS One. 2016 Nov 18;11(11):e0166583. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166583. eCollection 2016.


The recent studies have revealed that most BRAF inhibitors can paradoxically induce kinase activation by promoting dimerization and enzyme transactivation. Despite rapidly growing number of structural and functional studies about the BRAF dimer complexes, the molecular basis of paradoxical activation phenomenon is poorly understood and remains largely hypothetical. In this work, we have explored the relationships between inhibitor binding, protein dynamics and allosteric signaling in the BRAF dimers using a network-centric approach. Using this theoretical framework, we have combined molecular dynamics simulations with coevolutionary analysis and modeling of the residue interaction networks to determine molecular determinants of paradoxical activation. We have investigated functional effects produced by paradox inducer inhibitors PLX4720, Dabrafenib, Vemurafenib and a paradox breaker inhibitor PLX7904. Functional dynamics and binding free energy analyses of the BRAF dimer complexes have suggested that negative cooperativity effect and dimer-promoting potential of the inhibitors could be important drivers of paradoxical activation. We have introduced a protein structure network model in which coevolutionary residue dependencies and dynamic maps of residue correlations are integrated in the construction and analysis of the residue interaction networks. The results have shown that coevolutionary residues in the BRAF structures could assemble into independent structural modules and form a global interaction network that may promote dimerization. We have also found that BRAF inhibitors could modulate centrality and communication propensities of global mediating centers in the residue interaction networks. By simulating allosteric communication pathways in the BRAF structures, we have determined that paradox inducer and breaker inhibitors may activate specific signaling routes that correlate with the extent of paradoxical activation. While paradox inducer inhibitors may facilitate a rapid and efficient communication via an optimal single pathway, the paradox breaker may induce a broader ensemble of suboptimal and less efficient communication routes. The central finding of our study is that paradox breaker PLX7904 could mimic structural, dynamic and network features of the inactive BRAF-WT monomer that may be required for evading paradoxical activation. The results of this study rationalize the existing structure-functional experiments by offering a network-centric rationale of the paradoxical activation phenomenon. We argue that BRAF inhibitors that amplify dynamic features of the inactive BRAF-WT monomer and intervene with the allosteric interaction networks may serve as effective paradox breakers in cellular environment.

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Binding Sites
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Molecular Structure
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Multimerization*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / chemistry*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Ligands
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.