Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine ion channel receptors (nAChRs) exist as several subtypes and are involved in a variety of functions and disorders of the central nervous system (CNS), such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons diseases. The lack of reliable information on the 3D structure of nAChRs prompted us to focus efforts on pharmacophore and structure-affinity relationships (SAFIRs). The use of DISCO (DIStance COmparison) and Catalyst / HipHop led to the formulation of a pharmacophore that is made of three geometrically unrelated features: (i) an ammonium head involved in coulombic and / or H-bond interactions, (ii) a lone pair of a pyridine nitrogen or a carbonyl oxygen, as H-bond acceptor site, and (iii) a hydrophobic molecular region generally constituted by aliphatic cycles. The quantitative SAFIR (QSAFIR) study was carried out on about three hundred nicotinoid agonists, and coherent results were obtained from classical Hansch-type approach, 3D QSAFIRs, based on Comparative Molecular Field Analysis (CoMFA), and trade-off models generated by Multi-objective Genetic QSAR (MoQSAR), a novel evolutionary software that makes use of Genetic Programming (GP) and multi-objective optimization (MO). Within each congeneric series, Hansch-type equations revealed detrimental steric effects as the major factors modulating the receptor affinity, whereas CoMFA allowed us to merge progressively single-class models in a more global one, whose robustness was supported by crossvalidation, high prediction statistics and satisfactory predictions of the affinity data of a true external ligand set (r2 pred = 0.796). Next, MoQSAR was used to analyze a data set of 58 highly active nicotinoids characterized by 56 descriptors, that are log P, MR and 54 low inter-correlated WHIM (Weighted Holistic Invariant Molecular) indices. Equivalent QSAFIR models, that represent different compromises between structural model complexity, fitting and internal model complexity, were found. Our attention was mostly engaged by a number of nonlinear QSAFIRs, which relate nAChR affinity with the log P and directional WHIM descriptors. The results reviewed herein show as QSAFIRs may helpfully complement the pharmacophores, thus enhancing the applicability of computer-aided methodologies in the field of nAChR agonists.
Keywords: neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, pharmacophore, DISCO, Catalyst, quantitative structure-affinity, relationships, CoMFA,, multi-objective optimization,, genetic programming
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