CC Chemokine Receptor 2 (CCR2) is a part of the chemokine receptor family, an important class of therapeutic targets. These class A G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are involved in mammalian signaling pathways and control cell migration toward endogenous CC chemokine ligands. Chemokine receptors and their associated ligands are involved in a wide range of diseases and thus have become important drug targets. Of particular interest is CCR2, which has been implicated in cancer, autoimmunity driven type-1 diabetes, diabetic nephropathy, multiple sclerosis, asthma, atherosclerosis, neuropathic pain, and rheumatoid arthritis. Although promising, CCR2 antagonists have been largely unsuccessful to date. Here, we investigate the effect of an orthosteric and an allosteric antagonist on CCR2 dynamics by coupling long timescale molecular dynamics simulations with Markov-state model theory. We find that the antagonists shift CCR2 into several stable inactive conformations that are distinct from the crystal structure conformation, and that they disrupt a continuous internal water and sodium ion pathway preventing transitions to an active-like state. Several of these stable conformations contain a putative drug binding pocket that may be amenable to targeting with another small molecule antagonist. In the absence of antagonists, the apo dynamics reveal intermediate conformations along the activation pathway that provide insight into the basal dynamics of CCR2, and may also be useful for future drug design.
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