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J Chem Inf Model. 2012 Aug 27;52(8):2044-58. doi: 10.1021/ci300084j. Epub 2012 Jul 13.

Real external predictivity of QSAR models. Part 2. New intercomparable thresholds for different validation criteria and the need for scatter plot inspection.

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  • 1QSAR Research Unit in Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology, Department of Theoretical and Applied Sciences, University of Insubria, Via Dunant 3, 21100, Varese, Italy.


The evaluation of regression QSAR model performance, in fitting, robustness, and external prediction, is of pivotal importance. Over the past decade, different external validation parameters have been proposed: Q(F1)(2), Q(F2)(2), Q(F3)(2), r(m)(2), and the Golbraikh-Tropsha method. Recently, the concordance correlation coefficient (CCC, Lin), which simply verifies how small the differences are between experimental data and external data set predictions, independently of their range, was proposed by our group as an external validation parameter for use in QSAR studies. In our preliminary work, we demonstrated with thousands of simulated models that CCC is in good agreement with the compared validation criteria (except r(m)(2)) using the cutoff values normally applied for the acceptance of QSAR models as externally predictive. In this new work, we have studied and compared the general trends of the various criteria relative to different possible biases (scale and location shifts) in external data distributions, using a wide range of different simulated scenarios. This study, further supported by visual inspection of experimental vs predicted data scatter plots, has highlighted problems related to some criteria. Indeed, if based on the cutoff suggested by the proponent, r(m)(2) could also accept not predictive models in two of the possible biases (location, location plus scale), while in the case of scale shift bias, it appears to be the most restrictive. Moreover, Q(F1)(2) and Q(F2)(2) showed some problems in one of the possible biases (scale shift). This analysis allowed us to also propose recalibrated, and intercomparable for the same data scatter, new thresholds for each criterion in defining a QSAR model as really externally predictive in a more precautionary approach. An analysis of the results revealed that the scatter plot of experimental vs predicted external data must always be evaluated to support the statistical criteria values: in some cases high statistical parameter values could hide models with unacceptable predictions.

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