In pursuit of virtual lead optimization: the role of the receptor structure and ensembles in accurate docking

Accurate ranking during in silico lead optimization is critical to drive the generation of new ligands with higher affinity, yet it is especially difficult because of the subtle changes between analogs. In order to assess the role of the structure of the receptor in delivering accurate lead ranking results, we docked a set of forty related inhibitors to structures of one species of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) derived from crystallographic, NMR solution data, and homology models. In this study, the crystal structures yielded the superior results: the compounds were placed in the active site in the conserved orientation and the docking scores for 80% percent of the compounds clustered into the same bins as the measured affinity. Single receptor structures derived from NMR data or homology models did not serve as accurate docking receptors. To our knowledge, these are the first experiments that assess ranking of homologous lead compounds using a variety of receptor structures. We then extended the study to investigate whether ensembles, either computationally or experimentally derived, of all of the single starting structures aid, hinder or have no effect on the performance of the starting template. Impressively, when ensembles of receptor structures derived from NMR data or homology models were employed, docking accuracy improved to a level equal to that of the high resolution crystal structures. The same experiments using a second species of DHFR and set of ligands confirm the results. A comparison of the structures of the individual ensemble members to the starting structures shows that the effect of the ensembles can be ascribed to protein flexibility in addition to absorption of computational error.

Erin S. D. Bolstad, Amy C. Anderson
November 15, 2008
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