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Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are the main regulatory factors implicated in the adaptation of cancer cells to hypoxic stress, which has provoked much interest as an attractive target for the design of promising chemotherapeutic agents. Since indirect HIF inhibitors (HIFIs) lead to the occurrence of various side effects, the need of the hour is to develop direct HIFIs, physically interacting with important functional domains within the HIF protein structure. Accordingly, in the present study, it was attempted to develop an exhaustive structure-based virtual screening (VS) process coupled with molecular docking, molecular dynamic (MD) simulation, and MM-GBSA calculations for the identification of novel direct inhibitors against the HIF-2α subunit. For this purpose, a focused library of over 200,000 compounds from the NCI database was used for VS against the PAS-B domain of the target protein, HIF-2α. This domain was suggested to be a possible ligand-binding site, which is characterized by a large internal hydrophobic cavity, unique to the HIF-2α subunit. The top-ranked compounds, NSC106416, NSC217021, NSC217026, NSC215639, and NSC277811 with the best docking scores were taken up for the subsequent in silico ADME properties and PAINS filtration. The selected drug-like hits were employed for carrying out MD simulation which was followed by MM-GBSA calculations to retrieve the candidates showing the highest in silico binding affinity towards the PAS-B domain of HIF-2α. The analysis of results indicated that all molecules, except the NSC277811, fulfilled necessary drug-likeness properties. Four selected drug-like candidates, NSC106416, NSC217021, NSC217026, and NSC215639 were found to expose the stability profiles within the cavity located inside the PAS-B domain of HIF-2α over simulation time. Finally, the results of the MM-GBSA rescoring method were indicative of the highest binding affinity of NSC217026 for the binding site of the HIF-2α PAS-B domain among selected final hits. Consequently, the hit NSC217026 could serve as a promising scaffold for further optimization toward the design of direct HIF-2α inhibitors for cancer therapy.

Original publication




Journal article


Molecular diversity

Publication Date



Department of Tissue Engineering, Najafabad Branch, Islamic Azad University, Najafabad, Iran.