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J Cheminform. 2017 Mar 9;9:18. doi: 10.1186/s13321-017-0198-y. eCollection 2017.

Analysis of drug-endogenous human metabolite similarities in terms of their maximum common substructures.

O'Hagan S1,2, Kell DB1,2,3.

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School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester, 131 Princess St, Manchester, M1 7DN UK.
Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, The University of Manchester, 131 Princess St, Manchester, M1 7DN UK.
Centre for the Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM), The University of Manchester, 131 Princess St, Manchester, M1 7DN UK.


In previous work, we have assessed the structural similarities between marketed drugs ('drugs') and endogenous natural human metabolites ('metabolites' or 'endogenites'), using 'fingerprint' methods in common use, and the Tanimoto and Tversky similarity metrics, finding that the fingerprint encoding used had a dramatic effect on the apparent similarities observed. By contrast, the maximal common substructure (MCS), when the means of determining it is fixed, is a means of determining similarities that is largely independent of the fingerprints, and also has a clear chemical meaning. We here explored the utility of the MCS and metrics derived therefrom. In many cases, a shared scaffold helps cluster drugs and endogenites, and gives insight into enzymes (in particular transporters) that they both share. Tanimoto and Tversky similarities based on the MCS tend to be smaller than those based on the MACCS fingerprint-type encoding, though the converse is also true for a significant fraction of the comparisons. While no single molecular descriptor can account for these differences, a machine learning-based analysis of the nature of the differences (MACCS_Tanimoto vs MCS_Tversky) shows that they are indeed deterministic, although the features that are used in the model to account for this vary greatly with each individual drug. The extent of its utility and interpretability vary with the drug of interest, implying that while MCS is neither 'better' nor 'worse' for every drug-endogenite comparison, it is sufficiently different to be of value. The overall conclusion is thus that the use of the MCS provides an additional and valuable strategy for understanding the structural basis for similarities between synthetic, marketed drugs and natural intermediary metabolites.


Cheminformatics; Drug transporters; Encodings; Endogenites; Maximum common substructure; Metabolomics

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