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Journal Article

Flexi-pharma: a molecule-ranking strategy for virtual screening using pharmacophores from ligand-free conformational ensembles


Cossio,  Pilar
Biophysics of Tropical Diseases Max Planck Tandem Group, University of Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia;
Department of Theoretical Biophysics, Max Planck Institute of Biophysics, Max Planck Society;

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Lans, I., Palacio-Rodríguez, K., Cavasotto, C. N., & Cossio, P. (2020). Flexi-pharma: a molecule-ranking strategy for virtual screening using pharmacophores from ligand-free conformational ensembles. Journal of Computer-Aided Molecular Design, 34(10), 1063-1077. doi:10.1007/s10822-020-00329-7.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-B720-7
Computer-aided strategies are useful for reducing the costs and increasing the success-rate in drug discovery. Among these strategies, methods based on pharmacophores (an ensemble of electronic and steric features representing the target active site) are efficient to implement over large compound libraries. However, traditional pharmacophore-based methods require knowledge of active compounds or ligand-receptor structures, and only few ones account for target flexibility. Here, we developed a pharmacophore-based virtual screening protocol, Flexi-pharma, that overcomes these limitations. The protocol uses molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to explore receptor flexibility, and performs a pharmacophore-based virtual screening over a set of MD conformations without requiring prior knowledge about known ligands or ligand-receptor structures for building the pharmacophores. The results from the different receptor conformations are combined using a "voting" approach, where a vote is given to each molecule that matches at least one pharmacophore from each MD conformation. Contrarily to other approaches that reduce the pharmacophore ensemble to some representative models and score according to the matching models or molecule conformers, the Flexi-pharma approach takes directly into account the receptor flexibility by scoring in regards to the receptor conformations. We tested the method over twenty systems, finding an enrichment of the dataset for 19 of them. Flexi-pharma is computationally efficient allowing for the screening of thousands of compounds in minutes on a single CPU core. Moreover, the ranking of molecules by vote is a general strategy that can be applied with any pharmacophore-filtering program.