The stimulator-of-interferon-genes (STING) protein is involved in innate immunity. It has recently been shown that modulation of STING can lead to an aggressive antitumor response. DMXAA is an antitumor agent that had shown great promise in murine models but failed in human clinical trials. The molecular target of DMXAA was subsequently shown to be murine STING (mSTING); however, human STING (hSTING) is insensitive to DMXAA. Molecular dynamics simulations were employed to investigate the differences between hSTING and mSTING that could influence DMXAA binding. An initial set of simulations was performed to investigate a single lid region mutation G230I in hSTING (corresponding residue in mSTING is an Ile), which rendered the protein sensitive to DMXAA. The simulations found that an Ile side chain was enough to form a steric barrier that prevents exit of DMXAA, whereas in WT hSTING, the Gly residue that lacks a side chain formed a porous lid region that allowed DMXAA to exit. A second set of molecular dynamics simulations compared the tendency of STING to be in an open-inactive conformation or a closed-active conformation. The results show that hSTING prefers to be in an open-inactive conformation even with cGAMP, the native ligand, bound. On the other hand, mSTING prefers a closed-active conformation even without a ligand bound. These results highlight the challenges in translating a mouse active STING compound into a human active compound, while also providing avenues to pursue for designing a small-molecule drug targeting human STING.
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