Dissecting the Innate Immune Recognition of Opioid Inactive Isomer (+)-Naltrexone Derived Toll-like Receptor 4 (TLR4) Antagonists

Xiaozheng Zhang, Fengchao Cui, Hongqian Chen, Tianshu Zhang, Kecheng Yang, Yibo Wang, Zhenyan Jiang, Kenner C. Rice, Linda R. Watkins, Mark R. Hutchinson, Yunqi Li, Yinghua Peng, Xiaohui Wang

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37 Scopus citations


The opioid inactive isomer (+)-naltrexone is one of the rare Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) antagonists with good blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability, which is a lead with promising potential for treating neuropathic pain and drug addiction. (+)-Naltrexone targets the lipopolysaccharides (LPS) binding pocket of myeloid differentiation protein 2 (MD-2) and blocks innate immune TLR4 signaling. However, the details of the molecular interactions of (+)-naltrexone and its derivatives with MD-2 are not fully understood, which hinders the ligand-based drug discovery. Herein, in silico and in vitro assays were performed to elucidate the innate immune recognition of the opioid inactive (+)-isomers. The results showed that the conserved LPS binding pocket of MD-2 accommodated these opioid inactive (+)-isomers. The calculated binding free energies of (+)-naltrexone and its derivatives in complex with MD-2 correlated well with their experimental binding affinities and TLR4 antagonistic activities. Hydrophobic residues in the MD-2 cavity interacted directly with these (+)-naltrexone based TLR4 antagonists and principally participated in ligand binding. Increasing the hydrophobicity of substituted group at N-17 improved its TLR4 antagonistic activity, while charged groups disfavored the binding with MD-2. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations showed the binding of (+)-naltrexone or its derivatives to MD-2 stabilized the "collapsed" conformation of MD-2, consequently blocking the binding and signaling of TLR4. Thermodynamics and dynamic analysis showed the topology of substituted group at N-17 of (+)-naltrexone affected the binding with MD-2 and TLR4 antagonistic activity. This study provides a molecular insight into the innate immune recognition of opioid inactive (+)-isomers, which would be of great help for the development of next-generation of (+)-opioid based TLR4 antagonists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)816-825
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Chemical Information and Modeling
Issue number4
StatePublished - 23 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


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