Author ORCID Identifier 0000-0002-6329-5841

Document Type



Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal

Volume 19, 2021, Pages 6050-6063


The G-protein coupled receptor, GPR120, has ubiquitous expression and multifaceted roles in modulating metabolic and anti-inflammatory processes. Recent implications of its role in cancer progression have presented GPR120 as an attractive oncogenic drug target. GPR120 gene knockdown in breast cancer studies revealed a role of GPR120-induced chemoresistance in epirubicin and cisplatin-induced DNA damage in tumour cells. Higher expression and activation levels of GPR120 is also reported to promote tumour angiogenesis and cell migration in colorectal cancer. Some agonists targeting GPR120 have been reported, such as TUG891 and Compound39, but to date development of small-molecule inhibitors of GPR120 is limited.

Herein, following homology modelling of the receptor a pharmacophore hypothesis was derived from 300 ns all-atomic molecular dynamics (MD) simulations on apo, TUG891-bound and Compound39-bound GPR120S (short isoform) receptor models embedded in a water solvated lipid bilayer system. We performed comparative MD analysis on protein–ligand interactions between the two agonist and apo simulations on the stability of the “ionic lock” – a Class A GPCRs characteristic of receptor activation and inactivation. The detailed analysis predicted that ligand interactions with W277 and N313 are critical to conserve the “ionic-lock” conformation (R136 of Helix 3) and prevent GPR120S receptor activation. The results led to generation of a W277 and N313 focused pharmacophore hypothesis and the screening of the ZINC15 database using ZINCPharmer through the structure-based pharmacophore.

100 ns all-atomic molecular dynamics (MD) simulations were performed on 9 small molecules identified and Cpd 9, (2-hydroxy-N-{4-[(6-hydroxy-2-methylpyrimidin-4-yl) amino] phenyl} benzamide) was predicted to be a small-molecule GPR120S antagonist. The conformational results from the collective all-atomic MD analysis provided structural information for further identification and optimisation of novel druggable inhibitors of GPR120S using this rational design approach, which could have future potential for anti-cancer drug development studies.