Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Navigating in the ocean of molecules

11.08.2009
Tracking down new active agents for cancer or malaria treatment could soon become easier - thanks to a computer program with which researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology in Dortmund aim to facilitate the search for suitable pharmaceutical substances.

The program, which is called Scaffold Hunter, acts as a tool for navigating chemical space. It generates maps of chemically-related structures and links them to biological activity, that is, to their potential to bind to proteins, in particular medically relevant proteins.

With the help of this new tool, the Max Planck scientists, together with colleagues from the universities of Frankfurt, Eindhoven and New Mexico, have identified substances that could provide possible candidates for the development of active agents for use in cancer treatment and malaria. (Nature Chemical Biology, June 28, 2009)

The dimensions of the chemical space, which contains the total number of all conceivable chemical structures, are unimaginable: it is estimated to contain up to 10160 different molecules. Written out in full, this figure would fill two lines of closely-spaced numbers on a typed page. However, only some of these - 1060 molecules according to the estimates - are potential active agents. Identifying these islands of biological activity in the ocean of all potential compounds is not an easy task.

"Organic synthesis cannot gauge the chemical space in its entirety," explains Stefan Wetzel, a researcher from Herbert Waldmann's group at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology in Dortmund. Chemists cannot cook up all possible compounds to test them. Therefore, the researchers have developed this navigation system to help them steer their way through this sea of possibilities. The program Scaffold Hunter generates a map of the chemical space based on structural criteria and uses it to identify biologically active compounds, e.g. natural substances. The program can also be used to predict new candidate agents that do not occur in nature.

The scientists focus on the medically relevant section of the chemical space, in which molecules contain ring-shaped structures. To do this, they reduce the molecules to their characteristic scaffolds. Scaffold Hunter then orders these structures in a kind of family tree based on their similarities: the program assigns smaller 'parent' scaffolds to each scaffold by gradually removing rings from the original 'child' scaffold. This generates innumerable parent-child relationships - structurally related molecules of varying complexity. The advantage lies in the fact that chemically similar compounds are very likely to display similar biological activity.

"These structurally-based lineages form the branches of the tree," explains Stefan Wetzel: "With the help of Scaffold Hunter we move along the branches from complex to increasingly simple structures which may be similar in their effect." Thus, the researchers identify structurally simple scaffolds with promising characteristics as the starting point in the quest for new active agents: chemists can then vary the scaffolds with different appendages to synthesize the optimal active agent. Scaffold Hunter can also be used to predict bioactive molecules that do not arise in nature but are very likely to display similar activity to related natural molecules, as the program also creates and visualizes virtual scaffolds. The researchers immediately demonstrated how efficiently the program works by discovering new inhibitors of pyruvate kinase. The inhibition of this enzyme is seen as a promising approach to the treatment of cancer and malaria.

An even more detailed search can be carried out if the scientist can enter information about biological activity - if available - at the beginning of the navigation process. In this case, Scaffold Hunter only links the scaffolds that are known to display the same biological activity to the branches. As a result, these branches are very likely to bear fruit: active substances are probably also located in the branches between the substances whose biological activity is already known. "In this way, we tracked down new inhibitors for 2-lipoxygenase and the oestrogen receptor alpha," says Steffen Renner, a former researcher at the Max Planck Institute and now an employee of the Novartis pharmaceutical concern. 5-lipoxygenase is a target protein in the treatment of inflammation and bladder cancer, while the oestrogen receptor alpha is an important starting point in the treatment of breast cancer.

"Scaffold Hunter is a key technological tool with innumerable possible applications," says Stefan Wetzel. "The program was consciously designed in a very user-friendly way so that non-experts can use it to analyse their data themselves," he adds. The researchers have made Scaffold Hunter available free of charge on the Internet. The source code can also be obtained: advanced users can thus adapt the program to their requirements and embark on more targeted explorations of the chemical space.

Original work:

Renner S, van Otterlo WAL, Dominguez Seoane M, Möcklinghoff S, Hofmann B, Wetzel S, Schuffenhauer A, Ertl P, Oprea TI, Steinhilber D, Brunsveld L, Rauh D, Waldmann H

Bioactivity-Guided Mapping and Navigation of Chemical Space

Nature Chemical Biology

DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.187, June 28, 2009

Wetzel S, Klein K, Renner S, Rauh D, Oprea TI, Mutzel P, Waldmann H

Interactive Exploration of Chemical Space with Scaffold Hunter

Nature Chemical Biology

DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.188, June 28, 2009

Stefan Wetzel | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mpi-dortmund.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement
26.06.2017 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

nachricht New insight into a central biological dogma on ion transport
26.06.2017 | Aarhus University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold

26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Switchable DNA mini-machines store information

26.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>