Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

The scoring of poses in protein-protein docking: current capabilities and future directions

Iain H Moal1, Mieczyslaw Torchala2, Paul A Bates2 and Juan Fernández-Recio1*

  • * Corresponding author: Juan Fernández-Recio

Author Affiliations

1 Joint BSC-IRB Research Program in Computational Biology, Life Science Department, Barcelona Super computing Center, Barcelona 08034, Spain

2 Biomolecular Modelling Laboratory, Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, London WC2A 3LY, UK

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:286  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-286

Published: 1 October 2013



Protein-protein docking, which aims to predict the structure of a protein-protein complex from its unbound components, remains an unresolved challenge in structural bioinformatics. An important step is the ranking of docked poses using a scoring function, for which many methods have been developed. There is a need to explore the differences and commonalities of these methods with each other, as well as with functions developed in the fields of molecular dynamics and homology modelling.


We present an evaluation of 115 scoring functions on an unbound docking decoy benchmark covering 118 complexes for which a near-native solution can be found, yielding top 10 success rates of up to 58%. Hierarchical clustering is performed, so as to group together functions which identify near-natives in similar subsets of complexes. Three set theoretic approaches are used to identify pairs of scoring functions capable of correctly scoring different complexes. This shows that functions in different clusters capture different aspects of binding and are likely to work together synergistically.


All functions designed specifically for docking perform well, indicating that functions are transferable between sampling methods. We also identify promising methods from the field of homology modelling. Further, differential success rates by docking difficulty and solution quality suggest a need for flexibility-dependent scoring. Investigating pairs of scoring functions, the set theoretic measures identify known scoring strategies as well as a number of novel approaches, indicating promising augmentations of traditional scoring methods. Such augmentation and parameter combination strategies are discussed in the context of the learning-to-rank paradigm.

Docking; Scoring functions; Binding energy; Ranking; SwarmDock