Accurate prediction of protein-ligand binding affinities is essential for hit-to-lead optimization and virtual screening. The reliability of scoring functions can be improved by including quantum effects. Here, we demonstrate the ranking power of the semiempirical quantum mechanics (SQM)/implicit solvent (COSMO) scoring function by using a challenging set of 10 inhibitors binding to carbonic anhydrase II through Zn2+ in the active site. This new dataset consists of the high-resolution (1.1-1.4 Å) crystal structures and experimentally determined inhibitory constant (Ki ) values. It allows for evaluation of the common approximations, such as representing the solvent implicitly or by using a single target conformation combined with a set of ligand docking poses. SQM/COSMO attained a good correlation of R2 of 0.56-0.77 with the experimental inhibitory activities, benefiting from careful handling of both noncovalent interactions (e.g. charge transfer) and solvation. This proof-of-concept study of SQM/COSMO ranking for metalloprotein-ligand systems demonstrates its potential for hit-to-lead applications.
Keywords: binding affinities; crystallography; lead optimization; quantum mechanics; scoring function.
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