Property-Unmatched Decoys in Docking Benchmarks

J Chem Inf Model. 2021 Feb 22;61(2):699-714. doi: 10.1021/acs.jcim.0c00598. Epub 2021 Jan 25.


Enrichment of ligands versus property-matched decoys is widely used to test and optimize docking library screens. However, the unconstrained optimization of enrichment alone can mislead, leading to false confidence in prospective performance. This can arise by over-optimizing for enrichment against property-matched decoys, without considering the full spectrum of molecules to be found in a true large library screen. Adding decoys representing charge extrema helps mitigate over-optimizing for electrostatic interactions. Adding decoys that represent the overall characteristics of the library to be docked allows one to sample molecules not represented by ligands and property-matched decoys but that one will encounter in a prospective screen. An optimized version of the DUD-E set (DUDE-Z), as well as Extrema and sets representing broad features of the library (Goldilocks), is developed here. We also explore the variability that one can encounter in enrichment calculations and how that can temper one's confidence in small enrichment differences. The new tools and new decoy sets are freely available at and

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Benchmarking*
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protein Binding


  • Ligands