Using 28 chemically well-defined compounds containing D-erythro-sphingosine and its analogues, we analyzed structure-activity relationships for DNA primase inhibition. Biochemical studies demonstrated a positively charged amino group at C2 and a long aliphatic chain to be absolutely required for inhibition. Whereas C2-amino group is intact, sphingosine 1-phosphate was totally inactive. This result could be due to cancellation of positive charge of the amino group by the interaction with negatively charged C1-phosphate, since simulations with the software INSIGHT II showed these two groups to be close enough to interact. The hydroxyl group at C3 and trans-double bond at C4-C5 were also found to be important for the inhibition. Dehydroxylation of C3, as well as saturation or cis-conversion of the trans-double bond led to decrease of inhibitory activity. Despite saturation of the double bond, introduction of a hydroxyl group into C4 of dihydrosphingosine resulted in restoration of inhibition. Conversion of the double bond into a triple bond did not abolish but rather enhanced the inhibitory activity. Among sphingosine stereoisomers, the naturally occurring D-erythro-sphingosine proved to be the strongest inhibitor. To ascertain the contribution of the total conformation to the inhibition, especially of the long aliphatic chain, we constructed a 3D-quantitative structure-activity relationship model using the computer program Catalyst/HipHop on the basis of information described above. Analysis of the hypothesis model for active compounds revealed that the orientation of aliphatic chain, represented by the dihedral angle of C2-3-4-5, correlated well with the inhibition. Modifications such as deletion of the hydroxyl group at C3 or saturation of the C4-C5 double bond caused shifts in the dihedral angle of C2-3-4-5, with concomitant decrease in inhibitory activity.
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