Darre, Leonardo; Domene, Carmen
Binding of Capsaicin to the TRPV1 Ion Channel

Transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels constitute a notable family of cation channels involved in the ability of an organisms to detect noxious mechanical, thermal, and chemical stimuli that give rise to the perception of pain, taste, and changes in temperature. One of the most experimentally studied agonist of TRP channels is capsaicin, which is responsible for the burning sensation produced when chili pepper is in contact with organic tissues. Thus, understanding how this molecule interacts and regulates TRP channels is essential to high impact pharmacological applications, particularly those related to pain treatment. The recent publication of a three-dimensional structure of the vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) in the absence and presence of capsaicin from single particle electron cryomicroscopy experiments provides the opportunity to explore these questions at the atomic level. In the present work, molecular docking and unbiased and biased molecular dynamics simulations were employed to generate a structural model of the capsaicin channel complex. In addition, the energy of binding was estimated using alchemical transformations coupled with conformational, translational, and orientational restraints on the ligand. Key binding modes consistent with previous experimental data are identified, and subtle but essential dynamical features of the binding site are characterized. These observations shed some light into how TRPV1 interacts with capsaicin, and may help to refine design parameters for new TRPV1 antagonists, and potentially guide further developments of TRP channel modulators.


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