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J Org Chem. 2008 Jun 20;73(12):4443-51. doi: 10.1021/jo8001276. Epub 2008 May 28.

Structural diversity of organic chemistry. A scaffold analysis of the CAS Registry.

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  • 1Chemical Abstracts Service, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


By analyzing the scaffold content of the CAS Registry, we attempt to characterize in a comprehensive way the structural diversity of organic chemistry. The scaffold of a molecule is taken to be its framework, defined as all its ring systems and all the linkers that connect them. Framework data from more than 24 million organic compounds is analyzed. The distribution of frameworks among compounds is found to be top-heavy, i.e., a small percentage of frameworks occur in a large percentage of compounds. When frameworks are analyzed at the graph level, an even more top-heavy distribution is found: half of the compounds can be described by only 143 framework shapes. The most significant finding is that the framework distribution conforms almost exactly to a power law. This suggests that the more often a framework has been used as the basis for a compound, the more likely it is to be used in another compound. This may be explained by the cost of synthesis: making a new derivative of a framework is probably less costly if many other derivatives are known. We believe this power law is evidence that the minimization of synthetic cost has been a key factor in shaping the known universe of organic chemistry.

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