Virtual screening for the discovery of bioactive natural products.

Institute of Pharmacy/Pharmacognosy, Leopold-Franzens University of Innsbruck, Innrain 52c, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.
Fortschritte der Arzneimittelforschung. Progress in drug research. Progrès des recherches pharmaceutiques 02/2008; 65:211, 213-49. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-7643-8117-2_6
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT In this survey the impact of the virtual screening concept is discussed in the field of drug discovery from nature. Confronted by a steadily increasing number of secondary metabolites and a growing number of molecular targets relevant in the therapy of human disorders, the huge amount of information needs to be handled. Virtual screening filtering experiments already showed great promise for dealing with large libraries of potential bioactive molecules. It can be utilized for browsing databases for molecules fitting either an established pharmacophore model or a three dimensional (3D) structure of a macromolecular target. However, for the discovery of natural lead candidates the application of this in silico tool has so far almost been neglected. There are several reasons for that. One concerns the scarce availability of natural product (NP) 3D databases in contrast to synthetic libraries; another reason is the problematic compatibility of NPs with modern robotized high throughput screening (HTS) technologies. Further arguments deal with the incalculable availability of pure natural compounds and their often too complex chemistry. Thus research in this field is time-consuming, highly complex, expensive and ineffective. Nevertheless, naturally derived compounds are among the most favorable source of drug candidates. A more rational and economic search for new lead structures from nature must therefore be a priority in order to overcome these problems. Here we demonstrate some basic principles, requirements and limitations of virtual screening strategies and support their applicability in NP research with already performed studies. A sensible exploitation of the molecular diversity of secondary metabolites however asks for virtual screening concepts that are interfaced with well-established strategies from classical pharmacognosy that are used in an effort to maximize their efficacy in drug discovery. Such integrated virtual screening workflows are outlined here and shall help to motivate NP researchers to dare a step towards this powerful in silico tool.

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