Ligand-induced shifts in conformational ensembles that describe transcriptional activation

Sabab Hasan Khan, Sean M. Braet, Stephen John Koehler, Elizabeth Elacqua, Ganesh Srinivasan Anand, C. Denise Okafor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Nuclear receptors function as ligand-regulated transcription factors whose ability to regulate diverse physiological processes is closely linked with conformational changes induced upon ligand binding. Understanding how conformational populations of nuclear receptors are shifted by various ligands could illuminate strategies for the design of synthetic modulators to regulate specific transcriptional programs. Here, we investigate ligand-induced conformational changes using a reconstructed, ancestral nuclear receptor. By making substitutions at a key position, we engineer receptor variants with altered ligand specificities. We combine cellular and biophysical experiments to characterize transcriptional activity, as well as elucidate mechanisms underlying altered transcription in receptor variants. We then use atomistic molecular dynamics (MD) simulations with enhanced sampling to generate ensembles of wildtype and engineered receptors in combination with multiple ligands, followed by conformational analysis and correlation of MD-based predictions with functional ligand profiles. We determine that conformational ensembles accurately describe ligand responses based on observed population shifts. These studies provide a platform which will allow structural characterization of physiologically-relevant conformational ensembles, as well as provide the ability to design and predict transcriptional responses in novel ligands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere80140
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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