Can molecular dynamics simulations improve predictions of protein-ligand binding affinity with machine learning?

Shukai Gu, Chao Shen, Jiahui Yu, Hong Zhao, Huanxiang Liu, Liwei Liu, Rong Sheng, Lei Xu, Zhe Wang, Tingjun Hou, Yu Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Binding affinity prediction largely determines the discovery efficiency of lead compounds in drug discovery. Recently, machine learning (ML)-based approaches have attracted much attention in hopes of enhancing the predictive performance of traditional physics-based approaches. In this study, we evaluated the impact of structural dynamic information on the binding affinity prediction by comparing the models trained on different dimensional descriptors, using three targets (i.e. JAK1, TAF1-BD2 and DDR1) and their corresponding ligands as the examples. Here, 2D descriptors are traditional ECFP4 fingerprints, 3D descriptors are the energy terms of the Smina and NNscore scoring functions and 4D descriptors contain the structural dynamic information derived from the trajectories based on molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. We systematically investigate the MD-refined binding affinity prediction performance of three classical ML algorithms (i.e. RF, SVR and XGB) as well as two common virtual screening methods, namely Glide docking and MM/PBSA. The outcomes of the ML models built using various dimensional descriptors and their combinations reveal that the MD refinement with the optimized protocol can improve the predictive performance on the TAF1-BD2 target with considerable structural flexibility, but not for the less flexible JAK1 and DDR1 targets, when taking docking poses as the initial structure instead of the crystal structures. The results highlight the importance of the initial structures to the final performance of the model through conformational analysis on the three targets with different flexibility.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberbbad008
JournalBriefings in Bioinformatics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • binding affinity prediction
  • enhanced sampling
  • machine learning
  • molecular dynamics simulations
  • scoring function
  • structural flexibility


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