- SQUIRRELnovo : de novo design of a PPARalpha agonist by bioisosteric replacement (2009)
- Shape complementarity is a compulsory condition for molecular recognition . In our 3D ligand-based virtual screening approach called SQUIRREL, we combine shape-based rigid body alignment  with fuzzy pharmacophore scoring . Retrospective validation studies demonstrate the superiority of methods which combine both shape and pharmacophore information on the family of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs). We demonstrate the real-life applicability of SQUIRREL by a prospective virtual screening study, where a potent PPARalpha agonist with an EC50 of 44 nM and 100-fold selectivity against PPARgamma has been identified. SQUIRREL molecular superposition is based on a graph-matching routine  and allows partial matching. We used this advantage for searching for bioisosteric replacement suggestions in a database of molecular fragments derived from a collection of drug-like compounds . The bioisosteric groups suggested by our tool SQURRELnovo, can be used for ligand-based de novo design by a human expert. Using the fibrate derivative GW590735  as query, we designed a novel lead structure by substitution of the acidic head group and hydrophobic tail. The synthesis and following testing in a cell-based reporter gene assay [7,8] revealed that the designed structure activates PPARalpha with an EC50 of 510 nM.
- Spherical harmonics coeffcients for ligand-based virtual screening of cyclooxygenase inhibitors (2011)
- Background: Molecular descriptors are essential for many applications in computational chemistry, such as ligand-based similarity searching. Spherical harmonics have previously been suggested as comprehensive descriptors of molecular structure and properties. We investigate a spherical harmonics descriptor for shape-based virtual screening. Methodology/Principal Findings: We introduce and validate a partially rotation-invariant three-dimensional molecular shape descriptor based on the norm of spherical harmonics expansion coefficients. Using this molecular representation, we parameterize molecular surfaces, i.e., isosurfaces of spatial molecular property distributions. We validate the shape descriptor in a comprehensive retrospective virtual screening experiment. In a prospective study, we virtually screen a large compound library for cyclooxygenase inhibitors, using a self-organizing map as a pre-filter and the shape descriptor for candidate prioritization. Conclusions/Significance: 12 compounds were tested in vitro for direct enzyme inhibition and in a whole blood assay. Active compounds containing a triazole scaffold were identified as direct cyclooxygenase-1 inhibitors. This outcome corroborates the usefulness of spherical harmonics for representation of molecular shape in virtual screening of large compound collections. The combination of pharmacophore and shape-based filtering of screening candidates proved to be a straightforward approach to finding novel bioactive chemotypes with minimal experimental effort.
- Inhibitors of Helicobacter pylori protease HtrA found by "virtual ligand" screening combat bacterial invasion of epithelia (2011)
- Background: The human pathogen Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a main cause for gastric inflammation and cancer. Increasing bacterial resistance against antibiotics demands for innovative strategies for therapeutic intervention. Methodology/Principal Findings: We present a method for structure-based virtual screening that is based on the comprehensive prediction of ligand binding sites on a protein model and automated construction of a ligand-receptor interaction map. Pharmacophoric features of the map are clustered and transformed in a correlation vector (‘virtual ligand’) for rapid virtual screening of compound databases. This computer-based technique was validated for 18 different targets of pharmaceutical interest in a retrospective screening experiment. Prospective screening for inhibitory agents was performed for the protease HtrA from the human pathogen H. pylori using a homology model of the target protein. Among 22 tested compounds six block E-cadherin cleavage by HtrA in vitro and result in reduced scattering and wound healing of gastric epithelial cells, thereby preventing bacterial infiltration of the epithelium. Conclusions/Significance: This study demonstrates that receptor-based virtual screening with a permissive (‘fuzzy’) pharmacophore model can help identify small bioactive agents for combating bacterial infection.
- PhAST : pharmacophore alignment search tool (2009)
- We developed the Pharmacophore Alignment Search Tool (PhAST), a text-based technique for rapid hit and lead structure searching in large compound databases. For each molecule, a two-dimensional graph of potential pharmacophoric points (PPPs) is created, which has an identical topology as the original molecule with implicit hydrogen atoms. Each vertex is coloured by a symbol representing the corresponding PPP. The vertices of the graph are canonically labelled . The symbols associated with the vertices are combined to a so-called PhAST-Sequence beginning with the vertex with the lowest canonical label. Due to the canonical labelling the created PhAST-Sequence is characteristic for each molecule. For similarity assessment, PhAST-Sequences are compared using the sequence identity in their global pairwise alignment . The alignment score lies between 0 (no similarity) and 1 (identical PhAST-Sequences). In order to use global pairwise sequence alignment, a score matrix for pharmacophoric symbols was developed and gap penalties were optimized. PhAST performed comparably and sometimes superior to other similarity search tools (CATS2D , MOE pharmacophore quadruples ) in retrospective virtual screenings using the COBRA  collection of drugs and lead structures. Most importantly, the PhAST alignment technique allows for the computation of significance estimates that help prioritize a virtual hit list.