Background: The identification of promising drug leads from a large database of compounds is an important step in the preliminary stages of drug design. Although shape is known to play a key role in the molecular recognition process, its application to virtual screening poses significant hurdles both in terms of the encoding scheme and speed.
Results: In this study, we have examined the efficacy of the alignment independent three-dimensional Zernike descriptor (3DZD) for fast shape based similarity searching. Performance of this approach was compared with several other methods including the statistical moments based ultrafast shape recognition scheme (USR) and SIMCOMP, a graph matching algorithm that compares atom environments. Three benchmark datasets are used to thoroughly test the methods in terms of their ability for molecular classification, retrieval rate, and performance under the situation that simulates actual virtual screening tasks over a large pharmaceutical database. The 3DZD performed better than or comparable to the other methods examined, depending on the datasets and evaluation metrics used. Reasons for the success and the failure of the shape based methods for specific cases are investigated. Based on the results for the three datasets, general conclusions are drawn with regard to their efficiency and applicability.
Conclusion: The 3DZD has unique ability for fast comparison of three-dimensional shape of compounds. Examples analyzed illustrate the advantages and the room for improvements for the 3DZD.