Information decay in molecular docking screens against holo, apo, and modeled conformations of enzymes

J Med Chem. 2003 Jul 3;46(14):2895-907. doi: 10.1021/jm0300330.


Molecular docking uses the three-dimensional structure of a receptor to screen a small molecule database for potential ligands. The dependence of docking screens on the conformation of the binding site remains an open question. To evaluate the information loss that occurs as the active site conformation becomes less defined, a small molecule database was docked against the holo (ligand bound), apo, and homology modeled structures of 10 different enzyme binding sites. The holo and apo representations were crystallographic structures taken from the Protein Data Bank (PDB), and the homology-modeled structures were taken from the publicly available resource ModBase. The database docked was the MDL Drug Data Report (MDDR), a functionally annotated database of 95000 small molecules that contained at least 35 ligands for each of the 10 systems. In all sites, at least 99% of the molecules in the MDDR were treated as nonbinding decoys. For each system, the holo, apo, and modeled structures were used to screen the MDDR, and the ability of each structure to enrich the known ligands for that system over random selection was evaluated. The best overall enrichment was produced by the holo structure in seven systems, the apo structure in two systems, and the modeled structure in one system. These results suggest that the performance of the docking calculation is affected by the particular representation of the receptor used in the screen, and that the holo structure is the one most likely to yield the best discrimination between known ligands and decoy molecules, but important exceptions to this rule also emerge from this study. Although each of the holo, apo, and modeled conformations led to enrichment of known ligands in all systems, the enrichment did not always rise to a level judged to be sufficient to justify the effort of a docking screen. Using a 20-fold enrichment of known ligands over random selection as a rough guideline for what might be enough to justify a docking screen, the holo conformation of the enzyme met this criterion in eight of 10 sites, whereas the apo conformation met this criterion in only two sites and the modeled conformation in three.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoenzymes / chemistry
  • Binding Sites
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Databases, Protein
  • Enzymes / chemistry*
  • Holoenzymes / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Apoenzymes
  • Enzymes
  • Holoenzymes
  • Ligands