A fragmenting protocol with explicit hydration for calculation of binding enthalpies of target-ligand complexes at a quantum mechanical level

István Horváth, Norbert Jeszenői, Mónika Bálint, Gábor Paragi, Csaba Hetényi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Optimization of the enthalpy component of binding thermodynamics of drug candidates is a successful pathway of rational molecular design. However, the large size and missing hydration structure of target-ligand complexes often hinder such optimizations with quantum mechanical (QM) methods. At the same time, QM calculations are often necessitated for proper handling of electronic effects. To overcome the above problems, and help the QM design of new drugs, a protocol is introduced for atomic level determination of hydration structure and extraction of structures of target-ligand complex interfaces. The protocol is a combination of a previously published program MobyWat, an engine for assigning explicit water positions, and Fragmenter, a new tool for optimal fragmentation of protein targets. The protocol fostered a series of fast calculations of ligand binding enthalpies at the semi-empirical QM level. Ligands of diverse chemistry ranging from small aromatic compounds up to a large peptide helix of a molecular weight of 3000 targeting a leukemia protein were selected for systematic investigations. Comparison of various combinations of implicit and explicit water models demonstrated that the presence of accurately predicted explicit water molecules in the complex interface considerably improved the agreement with experimental results. A single scaling factor was derived for conversion of QM reaction heats into binding enthalpy values. The factor links molecular structure with binding thermodynamics viaQMcalculations. The new protocol and scaling factor will help automated optimization of binding enthalpy in future molecular design projects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4384
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019



  • Affinity
  • Binding
  • Correlation
  • Design
  • Interaction
  • Optimization
  • Peptide
  • Structure
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry

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