Open Access Research article

Effects of multiple conformers per compound upon 3-D similarity search and bioassay data analysis

Sunghwan Kim, Evan E Bolton* and Stephen H Bryant

Author Affiliations

National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, 20894, MD, USA

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Journal of Cheminformatics 2012, 4:28  doi:10.1186/1758-2946-4-28

Published: 7 November 2012

Abstract

Background

To improve the utility of PubChem, a public repository containing biological activities of small molecules, the PubChem3D project adds computationally-derived three-dimensional (3-D) descriptions to the small-molecule records contained in the PubChem Compound database and provides various search and analysis tools that exploit 3-D molecular similarity. Therefore, the efficient use of PubChem3D resources requires an understanding of the statistical and biological meaning of computed 3-D molecular similarity scores between molecules.

Results

The present study investigated effects of employing multiple conformers per compound upon the 3-D similarity scores between ten thousand randomly selected biologically-tested compounds (10-K set) and between non-inactive compounds in a given biological assay (156-K set). When the “best-conformer-pair” approach, in which a 3-D similarity score between two compounds is represented by the greatest similarity score among all possible conformer pairs arising from a compound pair, was employed with ten diverse conformers per compound, the average 3-D similarity scores for the 10-K set increased by 0.11, 0.09, 0.15, 0.16, 0.07, and 0.18 for STST-opt, CTST-opt, ComboTST-opt, STCT-opt, CTCT-opt, and ComboTCT-opt, respectively, relative to the corresponding averages computed using a single conformer per compound. Interestingly, the best-conformer-pair approach also increased the average 3-D similarity scores for the non-inactive–non-inactive (NN) pairs for a given assay, by comparable amounts to those for the random compound pairs, although some assays showed a pronounced increase in the per-assay NN-pair 3-D similarity scores, compared to the average increase for the random compound pairs.

Conclusion

These results suggest that the use of ten diverse conformers per compound in PubChem bioassay data analysis using 3-D molecular similarity is not expected to increase the separation of non-inactive from random and inactive spaces “on average”, although some assays show a noticeable separation between the non-inactive and random spaces when multiple conformers are used for each compound. The present study is a critical next step to understand effects of conformational diversity of the molecules upon the 3-D molecular similarity and its application to biological activity data analysis in PubChem. The results of this study may be helpful to build search and analysis tools that exploit 3-D molecular similarity between compounds archived in PubChem and other molecular libraries in a more efficient way.

Graphical abstract