Experimental 3D structures of calcium channels with phenylalkylamines (PAAs) provide basis for further analysis of atomic mechanisms of these important cardiovascular drugs. In the crystal structure of the engineered calcium channel CavAb with Br-verapamil and in the cryo-EM structure of the Cav1.1 channel with verapamil, the ligands bind in the inner pore. However, there are significant differences between these structures. In the crystal structure the ligand ammonium group is much closer to the ion in the selectivity-filter region Site 3, which is most proximal to the inner pore, than in the cryo-EM structure. Here we used Monte Carlo energy minimizations to dock PAAs in calcium channels. Our computations suggest that in the crystal structure Site 3 is occupied by a water molecule rather than by a calcium ion. Analysis of the published electron density map does not rule out this possibility. In the cryo-EM structures the ammonium group of verapamil is shifted from the calcium ion in Site 3 either along the pore axis, towards the cytoplasm or away from the axis. Our unbiased docking reproduced these binding modes. However, in the cryo-EM structures detergent and lipid molecules interact with verapamil. When we removed these molecules, the nitrile group of verapamil bound to the calcium ion in Site 3. Models of Cav1.2 with different PAAs suggest similar binding modes and direct contacts of the ligands electronegative atoms with the calcium ion in Site 3. Such interactions explain paradoxes in structure-activity relationships of PAAs.
Keywords: Calcium; Cryo electron microscopy; Monte carlo energy minimizations; Phenylalkylamines; Verapamil; X-ray crystallography.