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J Comput Aided Mol Des. 2018 Jul;32(7):731-757. doi: 10.1007/s10822-018-0126-x. Epub 2018 Jun 22.

Quantitative surface field analysis: learning causal models to predict ligand binding affinity and pose.

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Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, San Francisco, USA.
Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, USA.


We introduce the QuanSA method for inducing physically meaningful field-based models of ligand binding pockets based on structure-activity data alone. The method is closely related to the QMOD approach, substituting a learned scoring field for a pocket constructed of molecular fragments. The problem of mutual ligand alignment is addressed in a general way, and optimal model parameters and ligand poses are identified through multiple-instance machine learning. We provide algorithmic details along with performance results on sixteen structure-activity data sets covering many pharmaceutically relevant targets. In particular, we show how models initially induced from small data sets can extrapolatively identify potent new ligands with novel underlying scaffolds with very high specificity. Further, we show that combining predictions from QuanSA models with those from physics-based simulation approaches is synergistic. QuanSA predictions yield binding affinities, explicit estimates of ligand strain, associated ligand pose families, and estimates of structural novelty and confidence. The method is applicable for fine-grained lead optimization as well as potent new lead identification.


Binding affinity; Confidence estimation; Free-energy perturbation; Machine learning; Multiple-instance learning; Pose prediction; QSAR

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