Validation of molecular docking programs for virtual screening against dihydropteroate synthase

Dihydropteroate synthase (DHPS) is the target of the sulfonamide class of antibiotics and has been a validated antibacterial drug target for nearly 70 years. The sulfonamides target the p-aminobenzoic acid (pABA) binding site of DHPS and interfere with folate biosynthesis and ultimately prevent bacterial replication. However, widespread bacterial resistance to these drugs has severely limited their effectiveness. This study explores the second and more highly conserved pterin binding site of DHPS as an alternative approach to developing novel antibiotics that avoid resistance. In this study, five commonly used docking programs, FlexX, Surflex, Glide, GOLD, and DOCK, and nine scoring functions, were evaluated for their ability to rank-order potential lead compounds for an extensive virtual screening study of the pterin binding site of B. anthracis DHPS. Their performance in ligand docking and scoring was judged by their ability to reproduce a known inhibitor conformation and to efficiently detect known active compounds seeded into three separate decoy sets. Two other metrics were used to assess performance; enrichment at 1% and 2% and Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curves. The effectiveness of postdocking relaxation prior to rescoring and consensus scoring were also evaluated. Finally, we have developed a straightforward statistical method of including the inhibition constants of the known active compounds when analyzing enrichment results to more accurately assess scoring performance, which we call the ‘sum of the sum of log rank’ or SSLR. Of the docking and scoring functions evaluated, Surflex with Surflex-Score and Glide with GlideScore were the best overall performers for use in virtual screening against the DHPS target, with neither combination showing statistically significant superiority over the other in enrichment studies or pose selection. Postdocking ligand relaxation and consensus scoring did not improve overall enrichment.