Screening Power of End-Point Free-Energy Calculations in Cucurbituril Host-Guest Systems

Xiao Liu, Lei Zheng, Chu Qin, Yang Li, John Z.H. Zhang, Zhaoxi Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


End-point free-energy methods as an indispensable component in virtual screening are commonly recognized as a tool with a certain level of screening power in pharmaceutical research. While a huge number of records could be found for end-point applications in protein-ligand, protein-protein, and protein-DNA complexes from academic and industrial reports, up to now, there is no large-scale benchmark in host-guest complexes supporting the screening power of end-point free-energy techniques. A good benchmark requires a data set of sufficient coverage of pharmaceutically relevant chemical space, a long-time sampling length supporting the trajectory approximation of the ensemble average, and a sufficient sample size of receptor-acceptor pairs to stabilize the performance statistics. In this work, selecting a popular family of macrocyclic hosts named cucurbiturils, we construct a large data set containing 154 host-guest pairs, perform extensive end-point sampling of several hundred nanosecond lengths for each system, and extract the free-energy estimates with a variety of end-point free-energy techniques, including the advanced three-trajectory dielectric-constant-variable regime proposed in our recent work. The best-performing end-point protocol employs GAFF2 for solute descriptions, the three-trajectory end-point sampling regime, and the MM/GBSA Hamiltonian in free-energy extraction, achieving a high ranking metrics of Kendall τ > 0.6, a Pearlman predictive index of ∼0.8, and a high scoring power of Pearson r > 0.8. The current project as the first large-scale systematic benchmark of end-point methods in host-guest complexes in academic publications provides solid evidence of the applicability of end-point techniques and direct guidance of computational setups in practical host-guest systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6938-6946
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Chemical Information and Modeling
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 13 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Library and Information Sciences


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