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This article is part of the supplement: Ninth International Conference on Bioinformatics (InCoB2010): Computational Biology

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Probing the anticancer mechanism of prospective herbal drug Withaferin A on mammals: a case study on human and bovine proteasomes

Abhinav Grover1, Ashutosh Shandilya2, Virendra S Bisaria1 and Durai Sundar1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, Hauz Khas, New Delhi 110016, India

2 Supercomputing Facility for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, Hauz Khas, New Delhi 110016, India

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2010, 11(Suppl 4):S15  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-S4-S15

Published: 2 December 2010



The UPP (ubiquitin proteasome pathway) is the major proteolytic system in the cytosol and nucleus of all eukaryotic cells which regulates cellular events, including mitotis, differentiation, signal transduction, apoptosis, and inflammation. UPP controls activation of the transcriptional factor NF-κB (nuclear factor κB), which is a regulatory protein playing central role in a variety of cellular processes including immune and inflammatory responses, apoptosis, and cellular proliferation. Since the primary interaction of proteasomes occurs with endogenous proteins, the signalling action of transcription factor NF-κB can be blocked by inhibition of proteasomes. A great variety of natural and synthetic chemical compounds classified as peptide aldehydes, peptide boronates, nonpeptide inhibitors, peptide vinyl sulfones and epoxyketones are now widely used as research tools for probing their potential to inhibit proteolytic activities of different proteasomes and to investigate the underlying inhibition mechanisms. The present work reports a bio-computational study carried out with the aim of exploring the proteasome inhibition capability of WA (withaferin A), a steroidal lactone, by understanding the binding mode of WA as a ligand into the mammalian proteasomes (X-ray crystal structure of Bos taurus 20S proteasome and multiple template homology modelled structure of 20S proteasome of Homo sapiens) using molecular docking and molecular dynamics simulation studies.


One possible mode of action which is proposed here for WA to act as a proteasome inhibitor is by suppression of the proteolytic activity which depends on the N-terminal threonine (Thr1) residue hydroxyl group. Docking studies carried out with herbal ligand WA into the structures of bovine and human proteasomes substantiate that WA has the ability to inhibit activity of mammalian 20S proteasomes by blocking the nucleophilic function of N-terminal Thr1. Results from molecular dynamics simulations in water show that the trajectories of both the native human 20S proteasome and the proteasome complexed with WA are stable over a considerably long time period of 4 ns suggesting the dynamic structural stability of human 20S proteasome/WA complex.


Inhibition of proteasomal activity are promising ways to retard or block degradation of specific proteins to correct diverse pathologies. Though quite a number of selective and efficient proteasomal inhibitors exist nowadays, their toxic side effects limit their potential in possible disease treatment. Thus there is an indispensable need for exploration of novel natural products as antitumor drug candidates. The present work supports the mammalian proteasomes inhibiting activity of WA along with elucidation of its possible mode of action. Since WA is a small herbal molecule, it is expected to provide one of the modest modes of inhibition along with added favours of ease in oral administration and decreased immunogenicity. The molecular docking results suggest that WA can inhibit the mammalian proteasomes irreversibly and with a high rate through acylation of the N-terminal Thr1 of the β-5 subunit.