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J Comput Aided Mol Des. 2008 Sep;22(9):593-609. doi: 10.1007/s10822-008-9199-2. Epub 2008 Mar 13.

Differentiation of AmpC beta-lactamase binders vs. decoys using classification kNN QSAR modeling and application of the QSAR classifier to virtual screening.

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  • 1Laboratory for Molecular Modeling, Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB #7360, Beard Hall, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-7360, USA.


The use of inaccurate scoring functions in docking algorithms may result in the selection of compounds with high predicted binding affinity that nevertheless are known experimentally not to bind to the target receptor. Such falsely predicted binders have been termed 'binding decoys'. We posed a question as to whether true binders and decoys could be distinguished based only on their structural chemical descriptors using approaches commonly used in ligand based drug design. We have applied the k-Nearest Neighbor (kNN) classification QSAR approach to a dataset of compounds characterized as binders or binding decoys of AmpC beta-lactamase. Models were subjected to rigorous internal and external validation as part of our standard workflow and a special QSAR modeling scheme was employed that took into account the imbalanced ratio of inhibitors to non-binders (1:4) in this dataset. 342 predictive models were obtained with correct classification rate (CCR) for both training and test sets as high as 0.90 or higher. The prediction accuracy was as high as 100% (CCR = 1.00) for the external validation set composed of 10 compounds (5 true binders and 5 decoys) selected randomly from the original dataset. For an additional external set of 50 known non-binders, we have achieved the CCR of 0.87 using very conservative model applicability domain threshold. The validated binary kNN QSAR models were further employed for mining the NCGC AmpC screening dataset (69653 compounds). The consensus prediction of 64 compounds identified as screening hits in the AmpC PubChem assay disagreed with their annotation in PubChem but was in agreement with the results of secondary assays. At the same time, 15 compounds were identified as potential binders contrary to their annotation in PubChem. Five of them were tested experimentally and showed inhibitory activities in millimolar range with the highest binding constant K(i) of 135 microM. Our studies suggest that validated QSAR models could complement structure based docking and scoring approaches in identifying promising hits by virtual screening of molecular libraries.

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