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This article is part of the supplement: Eleventh International Conference on Bioinformatics (InCoB2012): Bioinformatics

Open Access Open Badges Proceedings

Mapping small molecule binding data to structural domains

Felix A Kruger, Raghd Rostom and John P Overington*

Author Affiliations

European Bioinformatics Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, UK

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BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13(Suppl 17):S11  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-S17-S11

Published: 13 December 2012



Large-scale bioactivity/SAR Open Data has recently become available, and this has allowed new analyses and approaches to be developed to help address the productivity and translational gaps of current drug discovery. One of the current limitations of these data is the relative sparsity of reported interactions per protein target, and complexities in establishing clear relationships between bioactivity and targets using bioinformatics tools. We detail in this paper the indexing of targets by the structural domains that bind (or are likely to bind) the ligand within a full-length protein. Specifically, we present a simple heuristic to map small molecule binding to Pfam domains. This profiling can be applied to all proteins within a genome to give some indications of the potential pharmacological modulation and regulation of all proteins.


In this implementation of our heuristic, ligand binding to protein targets from the ChEMBL database was mapped to structural domains as defined by profiles contained within the Pfam-A database. Our mapping suggests that the majority of assay targets within the current version of the ChEMBL database bind ligands through a small number of highly prevalent domains, and conversely the majority of Pfam domains sampled by our data play no currently established role in ligand binding. Validation studies, carried out firstly against Uniprot entries with expert binding-site annotation and secondly against entries in the wwPDB repository of crystallographic protein structures, demonstrate that our simple heuristic maps ligand binding to the correct domain in about 90 percent of all assessed cases. Using the mappings obtained with our heuristic, we have assembled ligand sets associated with each Pfam domain.


Small molecule binding has been mapped to Pfam-A domains of protein targets in the ChEMBL bioactivity database. The result of this mapping is an enriched annotation of small molecule bioactivity data and a grouping of activity classes following the Pfam-A specifications of protein domains. This is valuable for data-focused approaches in drug discovery, for example when extrapolating potential targets of a small molecule with known activity against one or few targets, or in the assessment of a potential target for drug discovery or screening studies.