Designing the Sniper: Improving Targeted Human Cytolytic Fusion Proteins for Anti-Cancer Therapy via Molecular Simulation

Biomedicines. 2017 Feb 17;5(1):9. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines5010009.


Targeted human cytolytic fusion proteins (hCFPs) are humanized immunotoxins for selective treatment of different diseases including cancer. They are composed of a ligand specifically binding to target cells genetically linked to a human apoptosis-inducing enzyme. hCFPs target cancer cells via an antibody or derivative (scFv) specifically binding to e.g., tumor associated antigens (TAAs). After internalization and translocation of the enzyme from endocytosed endosomes, the human enzymes introduced into the cytosol are efficiently inducing apoptosis. Under in vivo conditions such enzymes are subject to tight regulation by native inhibitors in order to prevent inappropriate induction of cell death in healthy cells. Tumor cells are known to upregulate these inhibitors as a survival mechanism resulting in escape of malignant cells from elimination by immune effector cells. Cytosolic inhibitors of Granzyme B and Angiogenin (Serpin P9 and RNH1, respectively), reduce the efficacy of hCFPs with these enzymes as effector domains, requiring detrimentally high doses in order to saturate inhibitor binding and rescue cytolytic activity. Variants of Granzyme B and Angiogenin might feature reduced affinity for their respective inhibitors, while retaining or even enhancing their catalytic activity. A powerful tool to design hCFPs mutants with improved potency is given by in silico methods. These include molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and enhanced sampling methods (ESM). MD and ESM allow predicting the enzyme-protein inhibitor binding stability and the associated conformational changes, provided that structural information is available. Such "high-resolution" detailed description enables the elucidation of interaction domains and the identification of sites where particular point mutations may modify those interactions. This review discusses recent advances in the use of MD and ESM for hCFP development from the viewpoints of scientists involved in both fields.

Keywords: Angiogenin; Granzyme B; high performance computing; immunotherapy; molecular dynamics; targeted human cytolytic fusion proteins.

Publication types

  • Review