Stabilization of G-quadruplex structures in the c-KIT promoter with the aid of ligands has become an area of great interest in potential cancer therapeutics. Understanding the binding process between ligands and G-quadruplex is essential for a discovery of selective ligands with high binding affinity to G-quadruplex. In the present work, binding mechanisms of 4-quinazolinones to c-KIT G-quadruplex were investigated theoretically by means of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. To explore the binding affinity of ligands, binding free energy calculations were performed using the molecular mechanics Poisson-Boltzmann surface area (MM-PBSA) method. We demonstrate that the key interactions in G-quadruplex-ligand complexes are π-π stacking and hydrogen bond interactions. However, neither of these two interactions alone determines the stability of the G-quadruplex-ligand complexes; rather, it is the result of an intricate interplay between the two. To further examine the nature of the binding, a free energy decomposition analysis at residue level was carried out. The results clearly demonstrate the crucial roles of two hot spot residues (DG4 and DG8) for the binding of ligands to c-KIT G-quadruplex, and highlight the importance of the planar aromatic moiety of ligands in G-quadruplex stabilization via π-π stacking interactions. Our study can assist in the design of new derivatives of 4-quinazolinone with high binding affinity for c-KIT G-quadruplex.
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