Thrombin is a primary target for the development of novel anticoagulants, since It plays two important and opposite roles in hemostasis: procoagulant and anticoagulant. All thrombin functions are influenced by Na+ binding, which triggers the transition of this enzyme from an anticoagulant (slow) form to a procoagulant (fast) form. In previous studies, we have conveniently produced by chemical synthesis analogues of the N-terminal fragment 1-47 of hirudin HM2 containing noncoded amino acids and displaying up to similar to2700-fold more potent antithrombin activity, comparable to that of full-length hirudin. In the work presented here, we have exploited the versatility of chemical synthesis to probe the structural and energetic properties of the S3 site of thrombin through perturbations introduced in the structure of hirudin fragment 1-47. In particular, we have investigated the effects of systematic replacement of Tyr3 with noncoded amino acids retaining the aromatic nucleus of Tyr, as well as similar hydrophobic and steric properties, but possessing different electronic (e.g., p-fluoro-, p-iodo-, or p-nitro-Phe), charge (p-aminomethyl-Phe), or conformational (homo-Phe) properties. Our results indicate that the affinity of fragment 1-47 for thrombin is proportional to the desolvation free energy change upon complex formation, and is inversely related to the electric dipole moment of the amino acid side chain at position 3 of hirudin. In this study, we have also identified the key features that are responsible for the preferential binding of hirudin to the procoagulant (fast) form of thrombin. Strikingly, shaving at position 3, by Tyr --> Ala exchange, abolishes the differences in the affinity for thrombin allosteric forms, whereas a bulkier side chain (e.g., beta-naphthylalanine) improves binding preferentially to the fast form. These results provide strong, albeit indirect, evidence that the procoagulant (fast) form of thrombin is in a more open and accessible conformation with respect to the less forgiving structure it acquires in the slow form. This view is also supported by the results of molecular dynamics simulations conducted for 18 ns on free thrombin in full explicit water, showing that after similar to5 ns thrombin undergoes a significant conformational transition, from a more open conformation (which we propose can be related to the fast form) to a more compact and closed one (which we propose can be related to the slow form). This transition mainly involves the Trp148 and Trp60D loop, the S3 site, and the fibrinogen binding site, whereas the S1 site, the Na+-binding site, and the catalytic pocket remain essentially unchanged. In particular, our data indicate that the S3 site of the enzyme is less accessible to water in the putative slow form. This structural picture provides a reasonable molecular explanation for the fact that physiological substrates related to the procoagulant activity of thrombin (fibrinogen, thrombin receptor 1, and factor XIII) orient a bulky side chain into the S3 site of the enzyme. Taken together, our results can have important implications for the design of novel thrombin inhibitors, of practical utility in the treatment of coagulative disorders.
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