Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Experimental Therapeutics

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Shuxing Zhang, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bryant Darnay, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John E. Ladbury, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Hui-Kuan Lin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John McMurray, Ph.D.


Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-Receptor Associated Factors (TRAFs) are a family of signal transducer proteins. TRAF6 is a unique member of this family in that it is involved in not only the TNF superfamily, but the toll-like receptor (TLR)/IL-1R (TIR) superfamily. The formation of the complex consisting of Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor κ B (RANK), with its ligand (RANKL) results in the recruitment of TRAF6, which activates NF-κB, JNK and MAP kinase pathways. TRAF6 is critical in signaling with leading to release of various growth factors in bone, and promotes osteoclastogenesis. TRAF6 has also been implicated as an oncogene in lung cancer and as a target in multiple myeloma. In the hopes of developing small molecule inhibitors of the TRAF6-RANK interaction, multiple steps were carried out. Computational prediction of hot spot residues on the protein-protein interaction of TRAF6 and RANK were examined. Three methods were used: Robetta, KFC2, and HotPoint, each of which uses a different methodology to determine if a residue is a hot spot. These hot spot predictions were considered the basis for resolving the binding site for in silico high-throughput screening using GOLD and the MyriaScreen database of drug/lead-like compounds. Computationally intensive molecular dynamics simulations highlighted the binding mechanism and TRAF6 structural changes upon hit binding. Compounds identified as hits were verified using a GST-pull down assay, comparing inhibition to a RANK decoy peptide. Since many drugs fail due to lack of efficacy and toxicity, predictive models for the evaluation of the LD50 and bioavailability of our TRAF6 hits, and these models can be used towards other drugs and small molecule therapeutics as well. Datasets of compounds and their corresponding bioavailability and LD50 values were curated based, and QSAR models were built using molecular descriptors of these compounds using the k-nearest neighbor (k-NN) method, and quality of these models were cross-validated.


TRAF6, virtual screening, drug design, hot spots, molecular dynamics, QSAR modeling, rational drug design