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Enantiomer discrimination illustrated by high-resolution crystal structures of the human nuclear receptor hRARγ

National Academy of Sciences
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  • Biological Sciences
  • Biology
  • Medicine
  • Pharmacology


The human retinoic acid receptor (hRAR) is a member of the nuclear receptor superfamily that regulates the transcription of target genes in a ligand-dependent manner. The three hRAR isotypes are targets for retinoids that are used in the treatment of various diseases, including breast cancer and skin diseases. Drug efficiency and safety depend on the pharmacological activity of enantiomers, which can differ because of the chiral environment generated by the target. We report the crystal structures of the hRARγ ligand-binding domain bound to two enantiomers, the active BMS270394 and the inactive BMS270395, solved at 1.6 Å and 1.7 Å resolution, respectively. The crystal structures reveal that in both enantiomers, the hydroxyl moiety attached to the chiral center forms a hydrogen bond to the Met-272 sulfur atom, thus imposing a conformation of BMS270395 that differs significantly from that observed for BMS270394 and other known retinoids. BMS270395 adopts an energetically unfavorable conformation, accounting for its inactivity; in contrast, the conformation of BMS270394 is close to an energy minimum. Our high-resolution data allow rationalization of enantiomer discrimination by the receptor and provide a model system for the pharmacological properties of enantiomeric pairs.

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