Background: Molecular docking seeks to predict the geometry and affinity of the binding of a small molecule to a given protein of known structure. Rigid docking has long been used to screen databases of small molecules, because docking techniques that account for ligand flexibility have either been too slow or have required significant human intervention. Here we describe a docking algorithm, Hammerhead, which is a fast, automated tool to screen for the binding of flexible molecules to protein binding sites.
Results: We used Hammerhead to successfully dock a variety of positive control ligands into their cognate proteins. The empirically tuned scoring function of the algorithm predicted binding affinities within 1.3 log units of the known affinities for these ligands. Conformations and alignments close to those determined crystallographically received the highest scores. We screened 80 000 compounds for binding to streptavidin, and biotin was predicted as the top-scoring ligand, with other known ligands included among the highest-scoring dockings. The screen ran in a few days on commonly available hardware.
Conclusions: Hammerhead is suitable for screening large databases of flexible molecules for binding to a protein of known structure. It correctly docks a variety of known flexible ligands, and it spends an average of only a few seconds on each compound during a screen. The approach is completely automated, from the elucidation of protein binding sites, through the docking of molecules, to the final selection of compounds for assay.