Human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2) is a ligand-free tyrosine kinase receptor of the HER family that is overexpressed in some of the most aggressive tumours. Although it is known that HER2 dimerization involves a specific region of its extracellular domain, the so-called "dimerization arm", the mechanism of dimerization inhibition remains uncertain. However, uncovering how antibody interactions lead to inhibition of HER2 dimerization is of key importance in understanding its role in tumour progression and therapy. Herein, we employed several computational modelling techniques for a molecular-level understanding of the interactions between HER and specific anti-HER2 antibodies, namely an antigen-binding (Fab) fragment (F0178) and a single-chain variable fragment from Trastuzumab (scFv). Specifically, we investigated the effects of antibody-HER2 interactions on the key residues of "dimerization arm" from molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of unbound HER (in a total of 1 µs), as well as ScFv:HER2 and F0178:HER2 complexes (for a total of 2.5 µs). A deep surface analysis of HER receptor revealed that the binding of specific anti-HER2 antibodies induced conformational changes both in the interfacial residues, which was expected, and in the ECDII (extracellular domain), in particular at the "dimerization arm", which is critical in establishing protein-protein interface (PPI) interactions. Our results support and advance the knowledge on the already described trastuzumab effect on blocking HER2 dimerization through synergistic inhibition and/or steric hindrance. Furthermore, our approach offers a new strategy for fine-tuning target activity through allosteric ligands.
Keywords: breast cancer; dimerization inhibition; human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2); molecular dynamics; receptor–antibody interactions.