Recombinant production and in silico analysis of the Androgen receptor ligand binding domain

Simila, Henry Allan (2006) Recombinant production and in silico analysis of the Androgen receptor ligand binding domain. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The androgen receptor (AR) fulfils important roles for both sexes. By mediating the biological function of androgens, the AR has remained the target for endocrine therapies treating prostate cancer. The AR also determines the effectiveness of medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) in treating AR positive breast cancer.

Every man will be affected by prostate cancer if he lives long enough. Prostate cancer continues to be a leading cause of death for males despite research into this cancer covering more than 60 years since Huggins' seminal 1941 study showing that androgens play a key role in this cancer. Unfortunately, significant advances have not been forthcoming and the effect of treatment has remained largely the same over past decades, whereby initial treatment provides temporary remission but eventually advanced cases become refractory to further intervention and the disease recurs in a more aggressive form.

A plethora of factors are exquisitely sensitive to minute changes in the AR's structural profile, which can be altered by a single mutation, resulting in aberrant activity. A principal feature of these variant ARs associated with prostate cancer, is enhanced capacity to bind a number of molecules other than its cognate ligand, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The promiscuous activity of this receptor leads to continued AR signalling and stimulus for the cancer despite low androgen levels induced by treatment regimes.

A key question is whether mutations occurring within the AR occur as a result of cancer or contribute to the propagation of the cancer. Recent research has demonstrated that treatments incorporating anti-androgens such as flutamide, which are designed to impede prostate cancer progression by inhibiting AR activity, may actually provide selective pressure favouring somatic mutation of the receptor to take place.

The specific changes to the AR which are responsible for gains of function have not been resolved as their crystal structures, which are used to provide conformational analysis of proteins, are tremendously problematic to produce with little success found in literature. Generating representative crystals of the AR protein involves producing soluble recombinant protein. Unfortunately the AR is prone to aggregation and is highly unstable, especially in the presence of antagonistic molecules or absence of a stabilising ligand, preventing the protein from being maintained in the soluble state required for crystallization.

In order to produce sufficient quantities of soluble material for crystallization, the androgen receptor's ligand binding domain (LBD) was produced as a recombinant protein in Escherichia coli bacteria strain BL21 (DE3) in the presence of DHT, flutamide, as well as in the absence of ligand. Since soluble unbound AR-LBD has not been produced until now, the bacterial culture containing no ligand was further processed to the stage of cleaving the purification tag from the recombinant protein and represents considerable progress into producing soluble material for crystallizing the troublesome yet considerably important AR in the absence of ligand.

Although distinct from prostate cancer in males, AR activity in breast tissue is also a factor determining the action of drugs, such as MPA, included in therapies aimed at breast cancer. The use of MPA has declined primarily due to its adverse effects including unsuccessful generation of a biological response, as well as the advent of other drugs administered for hormonal therapies treating breast cancer. Alternative drugs are needed when breast cancer therapies fail as tumours develop resistance to primary drugs. Although there are a number of drugs on the market, success would be maximised if the determined therapy is matched with the patient, based for example, on their genetic makeup. There is a conundrum whereby some patients with an AR do not respond to MPA, a drug normally recognised by the receptor.

In clinical trials it was discovered that an AR with threonine instead of methionine at residue 780 (M780T) fails to activate in response to MPA, but the exact mechanism has remained elusive and needs to be answered at the molecular level. The X-ray crystallographic studies that generate 3D images of macromolecules and wet chemistry, which have traditionally been used to provide insight into science in these dimensions, are incorporated with computer based molecular simulation. This is both complementary and distinct to traditional scientific methodologies, enabling further elucidation of protein-protein interactions, and the influence applied to such inter-relations by natural and drug ligands. This approach has been used, and is continually developed, to understand the binding mechanisms of current drugs as well as designing new drugs.

In order to produce a receptor representing the M780T variant, the crystal structure representing the AR-LBD was mutated in silico, into which MPA was then docked. It was found that MPA binds into the M780T AR-LBD with considerably more spatial displacement compared to the position of DHT in the crystal structure, and is predicted to be the primary reason for the inability of MPA to activate this variant AR.

The clarification of MPA binding and failure to elicit a response from the variant AR is significant for a cohort of breast cancer patients, as not only does the presence of an AR in the tumour determine the effectiveness of MPA, but correct composition of the AR, specifically, the absence of a M780T mutation. In the absence of this AR mutation, MPA could effectively be used either as an alternative to primary drugs, or in secondary therapies when primary therapies fail. Aberrant activity of variant ARs in response to MPA should also be taken into consideration when analysing drug studies about the effectiveness of MPA.

The findings on the loss of response to MPA by the M780T variant AR have been included in the journal article &quotDecreased Androgen Receptor Levels and Receptor Function in Breast Cancer Contribute to the Failure of Response to Medroxyprogesterone Acetate" appearing in the September 2005 issue of Cancer Research journal.

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ID Code: 16349
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Harris, Jonathan, Rasmussen, Anthony, & Walsh, Terence
Keywords: androgen receptor, breast cancer mutation methionine 780 to threonine, flutamide, in vitro recombinant protein expression, medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), molecular simulation, prostate cancer
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Past > Schools > School of Life Sciences
Department: Faculty of Science
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Henry Allan Simila
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:01
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:46

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