A novel procedure for the automatic identification of ligands in macromolecular crystallographic electron-density maps is introduced. It is based on the sparse parameterization of density clusters and the matching of the pseudo-atomic grids thus created to conformationally variant ligands using mathematical descriptors of molecular shape, size and topology. In large-scale tests on experimental data derived from the Protein Data Bank, the procedure could quickly identify the deposited ligand within the top-ranked compounds from a database of candidates. This indicates the suitability of the method for the identification of binding entities in fragment-based drug screening and in model completion in macromolecular structure determination.
Keywords: drug design; ligands; macromolecular X-ray crystallography; shape descriptors.