A molecular docking study of the interactions between human transferrin and seven metallocene dichlorides

J Mol Graph Model. 2017 Aug;75:250-265. doi: 10.1016/j.jmgm.2017.05.005. Epub 2017 May 30.


Human Transferrin (hTf) is a metal-binding protein found in blood plasma and is well known for its role in iron delivery. With only a 30% of its capacity for Fe+3 binding, this protein has the potential ability to transport other metal ions or organometallic compounds from the blood stream to all cell tissues. In this perspective, recent studies have described seven metallocene dichlorides (Cp2M(IV)Cl2, M(IV)=V, Mo, W, Nb, Ti, Zr, Hf) suitable as anticancer drugs and less secondary effects than cisplatin. However, these studies have not provided enough data to clearly explain how hTf binds and transports these organometallic compounds into the cells. Thus, a computational docking study with native apo-hTf using Sybyl-X 2.0 program was conducted to explore the binding modes of these seven Cp2M(IV)Cl2 after their optimization and minimization using Gaussian 09. Our model showed that the first three Cp2M(IV)Cl2 (M(IV)=V, Mo, W) can interact with apo-hTf on a common binding site with the amino acid residues Leu-46, Ile-49, Arg-50, Leu-66, Asp-69, Ala-70, Leu-72, Ala-73, Pro-74 and Asn-75, while the next four Cp2M(IV)Cl2 (M(IV)=Nb, Ti, Zr, Hf) showed different binding sites, unknown until now. A decreasing order in the total score (equal to -log Kd) was observed from these docking studies: W (5.4356), Mo (5.2692), Nb (5.1672), V (4.5973), Ti (3.6529), Zr (2.0054) and Hf (1.8811). High and significant correlation between the affinity of these seven ligands (metallocenes) for apo-hTf and their bond angles CpMCp (r=0.94, p<0.01) and Cl-M-Cl (r=0.95, p<0.01) were observed, thus indicating the important role that these bond angles can play in ligand-protein interactions. Fluorescence spectra of apo-hTf, measured at pH 7.4, had a decrease in the fluorescence emission spectrum with increasing concentration of Cp2M(IV)Cl2. Experimental data has a good correlation between KA (r=0.84, p=0.027) and Kd (r=0.94, p=0.0014) values and the calculated total scores obtained from our docking experiments. In conclusion, these results suggest that the seven Cp2M(IV)Cl2 used for this study can interact with apo-hTf, and their affinity was directly and inversely proportional to their bond angles CpMCp and ClMCl, respectively. Our docking studies also suggest that the binding of the first three Cp2M(IV)Cl2 (M(IV)=V, Mo, W) to hTf could abrogate the formation of the hTf-receptor complex, and as a consequence the metallocene-hTf complex might require another transport mechanism in order to get into the cell.

Keywords: Binding site selection; Gaussian 09; Human transferrin; Ligand-protein docking; Metallocene dichlorides; Sybyl-X 2.0 program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Apoproteins / chemistry
  • Binding Sites
  • Chlorides / chemistry*
  • Fluorescence
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Docking Simulation*
  • Organometallic Compounds / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Transferrin / chemistry
  • Transferrin / chemistry*


  • Amino Acids
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Apoproteins
  • Chlorides
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Transferrin
  • metallocene