Morphological similarity: a 3D molecular similarity method correlated with protein-ligand recognition

J Comput Aided Mol Des. 2000 Feb;14(2):199-213. doi: 10.1023/a:1008100132405.


Recognition of small molecules by proteins depends on three-dimensional molecular surface complementarity. However, the dominant techniques for analyzing the similarity of small molecules are based on two-dimensional chemical structure, with such techniques often outperforming three-dimensional techniques in side-by-side comparisons of correlation to biological activity. This paper introduces a new molecular similarity method, termed morphological similarity (MS), that addresses the apparent paradox. Two sets of molecule pairs are identified from a set of ligands whose protein-bound states are known crystallographically. Pairs that bind the same protein sites form the first set, and pairs that bind different sites from the second. MS is shown to separate the two sets significantly better than a benchmark 2D similarity technique. Further, MS agrees with crystallographic observation of bound ligand states, independent of information about bound states. MS is efficient to compute and can be practically applied to large libraries of compounds.

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / metabolism*


  • Ligands
  • Proteins