Comparative Analysis of Pharmacophore Screening Tools

Marijn P. A. Sanders, Armenio J. M. Barbosa, Barbara Zarzycka, Gerry A. F. Nicolaes, Jan P. G. Klomp, Jacob de Vlieg, Alberto Del Rio*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The pharmacophore concept is of central importance in computer-aided drug design (GADD) mainly because of its successful application in medicinal chemistry and, in particular, high-throughput virtual screening (HTVS). The simplicity of the pharmacophore definition enables the complexity of molecular interactions between ligand and receptor to be reduced to a handful set of features. With many pharmacophore screening softwares available, it is of the utmost interest to explore the behavior of these tools when applied to different biological systems. In this work, we present a comparative analysis of eight pharmacophore screening algorithms (Catalyst, Unity, LigandScout, Phase, Pharao, MOE, Pharmer, and POT) for their use in typical HTVS campaigns against four different biological targets by using default settings. The results herein presented show how the performance of each pharmacophore screening tool might be specifically related to factors such as the characteristics of the binding pocket, the use of specific pharmacophore features, and the use of these techniques in specific steps/contexts of the drug discovery pipeline. Algorithms with rmsd-based scoring functions are able to predict more compound poses correctly as overlay-based scoring functions. However, the ratio of correctly predicted compound poses versus incorrectly predicted poses is better for overlay-based scoring functions that also ensure better performances in compound library enrichments. While the ensemble of these observations can be used to choose the most appropriate class of algorithm for specific virtual screening projects, we remarked that pharmacophore algorithms are often equally good, and in this respect, we also analyzed how pharmacophore algorithms can be combined together in order to increase the success of hit compound identification. This study provides a valuable benchmark set for further developments in the field of pharmacophore search algorithms, e.g., by using pose predictions and compound library enrichment criteria.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1607-1620
JournalJournal of Chemical Information and Modeling
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

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