‘All That Glitters Is Not Gold': High-Resolution Crystal Structures of Ligand-Protein Complexes Need Not Always Represent Confident Binding Poses

Sohini Chakraborti, Kaushik Hatti, Narayanaswamy Srinivasan (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Our understanding of the structure–function relationships of biomolecules and thereby applying it to drug discovery programs are substantially dependent on the availability of the structural information of ligand–protein complexes. However, the correct interpretation of the electron density of a small molecule bound to a crystal structure of a macromolecule is not trivial. Our analysis involving quality assessment of ~0.28 million small molecule–protein binding site pairs derived from crystal structures corresponding to ~66,000 PDB entries indicates that the majority (65%) of the pairs might need little (54%) or no (11%) attention. Out of the remaining 35% of pairs that need attention, 11% of the pairs (including structures with high/moderate resolution) pose serious concerns. Unfortunately, most users of crystal structures lack the training to evaluate the quality of a crystal structure against its experimental data and, in general, rely on the resolution as a ‘gold standard’ quality metric. Our work aims to sensitize the non-crystallographers that resolution, which is a global quality metric, need not be an accurate indicator of local structural quality. In this article, we demonstrate the use of several freely available tools that quantify local structural quality and are easy to use from a non-crystallographer’s perspective. We further propose a few solutions for consideration by the scientific community to promote quality research in structural biology and applied areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6830
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2021


  • Binding pose
  • Electron density map
  • Ligand–protein crystal structures
  • PDB
  • Quality assessment
  • Resolution


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