Binding of interleukin-8 (IL-8) to glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) on the surface of endothelial cells is crucial for the recruitment of neutrophils to an inflammatory site. Deriving structural knowledge about this interaction from in silico docking experiments has proved difficult because of the high flexibility and the size of GAGs. Therefore, we developed a docking method that takes into account ligand and protein flexibility by running ∼15,000 molecular dynamics simulations of the docking event with different initial orientations of the binding partners. The method was shown to successfully reproduce the residues of basic fibroblast growth factor involved in GAG binding. Docking of a heparin hexasaccharide to IL-8 gave an interaction interface involving the basic residues His18, Lys20, Arg60, Lys64, Lys67, and Arg68. By subjecting IL-8 single-site mutants, in which these amino acids were replaced by alanine, to isothermal fluorescence titrations, the affinities for heparin were determined to be wtIL-8 > IL-8(H18A) ≫ IL-8(R68A) > IL-8(K67A) ≫ IL-8(K20A) > IL-8(R60A) ≫ IL-8(K64A). A comparison with the binding energies calculated from the model revealed high values for wtIL-8 and the H18A mutant and significantly lower but similar energies for the remaining mutants. Connecting the two fully sulfated hexasaccharides bound to each of the two IL-8 monomers in the dimeric chemokine by an N-acetylated dodecasaccharide gave a complex structure in which the GAG molecule aligned in a parallel fashion to the N-terminal α-helices of IL-8 like a horseshoe. A 5-ns molecular dynamics simulation of this complex confirmed its structural stability and revealed a reorientation in both binding sites where a disaccharide became the central binding unit. Isothermal fluorescence titration experiments using differently sulfated heparin disaccharides confirmed that a single disaccharide can indeed bind IL-8 with high affinity. Proteins 2004;54:000–000. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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