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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Drug-likeness analysis of traditional Chinese medicines: 1. property distributions of drug-like compounds, non-drug-like compounds and natural compounds from traditional Chinese medicines

Mingyun Shen1, Sheng Tian1, Youyong Li1, Qian Li4, Xiaojie Xu4, Junmei Wang3* and Tingjun Hou12*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Functional Nano & Soft Materials (FUNSOM) and Jiangsu Key Laboratory for Carbon-Based Functional Materials & Devices, Soochow University, Suzhou, Jiangsu, 215123, China

2 College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Soochow University, Suzhou, Jiangsu, 215123, China

3 Department of Biochemistry, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd, Dallas, TX, 75390, USA

4 College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China

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Journal of Cheminformatics 2012, 4:31  doi:10.1186/1758-2946-4-31

Published: 27 November 2012



In this work, we analyzed and compared the distribution profiles of a wide variety of molecular properties for three compound classes: drug-like compounds in MDL Drug Data Report (MDDR), non-drug-like compounds in Available Chemical Directory (ACD), and natural compounds in Traditional Chinese Medicine Compound Database (TCMCD).


The comparison of the property distributions suggests that, when all compounds in MDDR, ACD and TCMCD with molecular weight lower than 600 were used, MDDR and ACD are substantially different while TCMCD is much more similar to MDDR than ACD. However, when the three subsets of ACD, MDDR and TCMCD with similar molecular weight distributions were examined, the distribution profiles of the representative physicochemical properties for MDDR and ACD do not differ significantly anymore, suggesting that after the dependence of molecular weight is removed drug-like and non-drug-like molecules cannot be effectively distinguished by simple property-based filters; however, the distribution profiles of several physicochemical properties for TCMCD are obviously different from those for MDDR and ACD. Then, the performance of each molecular property on predicting drug-likeness was evaluated. No single molecular property shows good performance to discriminate between drug-like and non-drug-like molecules. Compared with the other descriptors, fractional negative accessible surface area (FASA-) performs the best. Finally, a PCA-based scheme was used to visually characterize the spatial distributions of the three classes of compounds with similar molecular weight distributions.


If FASA- was used as a drug-likeness filter, more than 80% molecules in TCMCD were predicted to be drug-like. Moreover, the principal component plots show that natural compounds in TCMCD have different and even more diverse distributions than either drug-like compounds in MDDR or non-drug-like compounds in ACD.

Drug-likeness; Traditional Chinese medicines; Principal component analysis (PCA); Property distribution; Molecular properties

Graphical abstract