The potent herbicide paraquat and three other analogues MPP+, MPDP+ and MPTP have a known toxicological profile linked to the ability to damage dopaminergic neurons. Other biological effects were recently addressed to this class of compounds, including the ability to interact with enzymatic targets involved in the Central Nervous System, such as the acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and the butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE). A combined molecular modelling and enzymatic study focusing onto their interaction against the AChE and BuChE is reported. The former study was performed by docking techniques using target known co-crystallographic models. The latter study was carried out by the widely adopted Ellman's method. In both studies the anti-Alzheimer FDA approved drug tacrine was used as reference inhibitor. Our results indicate that paraquat, MPTP, MPDP+ and MPP+ recognize both enzymatic cleft in a similar fashion compared to the reference inhibitor. A structure-activity correlation was found with the net charge of the ligands, indicating a major role of the electrostatic term in the recognition and inhibition of these compounds. Our data completed their enzymatic profile, added new information on the molecular mechanisms underlying their neurotoxicity useful for the rational design of new cholinesterase inhibitors.
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