Tag Archives: PDB

The Messy World of Even Curated Chemistry on the Internet

Recently I have been spending my night hours looking into the nature of curated chemistry on the internet. 3 years ago I made some assumptions around the quality of certain online datasets when they were deposited onto ChemSpider. It was clear that a lot of internet chemistry datasets were “impure”…I think messy, untrustworthy and confused would be a fairer statement! However, there were a number of datasets that were manually curated and, at initial viewing, were higher quality. With time however I have become increasingly concerned with some of the datasets that I had originally cited as high quality. Over the next few days/weeks I will examine some of these in detail and highlight some of the issues I am seeing. I want to clarify that all chemical compounds, in terms of  their connection tables, their stereochemistry and the association between the compound and the name(s) are assertions. However, there are “norms” for these structures….we would expect a particular structure for aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid ), a single structure for Cholesterol and a single structure for Taxol. By the way, the links to Wikipedia are not assertions that the structures that are presently on Wikipedia are correct representations…but I can confirm that PREVIOUSLY I did work to confirm that every one of these was consistent with my investigations to assert the association between the chemical name and the structure. SInce then it is possible that someone edited the structure…such is the world of Wikipedia!

Two of the linked data sources I have been investigating of late are DrugBank and the Protein Databank. Both of these are manually curated and are expected to be of high quality. In my discussions with various members of the Life Science industry I have heard many positive comments of these data sources as being trustworthy and high quality. I recently downloaded the drugbank small molecule set and started looking at it. Let’s take one example…

The Drugbank record DB02309 has the chemical name “5-Monophosphate-9-Beta-D-Ribofuranosyl Xanthine“. The structure on Drugbank is shown below.

The chemical name above is inconsistent with the structure…there is no stereochemistry in the molecule displayed despite the “-D-” in the name. The IUPAC name listed in the Drugbank record is “[(2R,3S,4R,5R)-5-(2,6-dioxo-3,7-dihydropurin-9-ium-9-yl)-3,4-dihydroxyoxolan-2-yl]methyl dihydrogen phosphate” and this clearly does not agree with the displayed structure.

The InChI listed on the record does not include a stereo layer (InChI=1/C10H13N4O9P/c15-5-3(1-22-24(19,20)21)23-9(6(5)16)14-2-11-4-7(14)12-10(18)13-8(4)17/h2-3,5-6,9,15-16H,1H2,(H2,19,20,21)(H2,12,13,17,18)/p+1/fC10H14N4O9P/h11-13,19-20H/q+1). The InChIKey is listed as:


The Drugbank record links to a structure with full explicit stereochemistry on PubChem here and to the ligand on the PDB ligand database hosted by ChEBI here.

The molfile downloaded from DrugBank has no stereochemistry but lists both Canonical and Isomeric SMILES

Isomeric SMILES O[C@H]1[C@H](COP(O)(O)=O)O[C@H]([C@@H]1O)N1C=[NH+]C2=C1NC(=O)NC2=O
Canonical SMILES OC1C(COP(O)(O)=O)OC(C1O)N1C=[NH+]C2=C1NC(=O)NC2=O

It is clear what has happened, I believe….the Drugbank record has used the canonical SMILES to generate the structure image and has neglected the stereochemistry. However, the names carry the original stereochemistry information while the InChI comes from the structure with no stereo. I think that’s what happened.Let’s confirm.

ASSUMING that the isomeric SMILES string is the appropriate stereochemistry I can convert it and get the following InChIKey (generated using ACD/ChemSketch) and using ACD/Name get the name below). I trust ChemSketch and ACD/Name products to generate both appropriately as I managed these products while at ACD/Labs for over a decade.



On Drugbank the chemical name listed is:

[(2R,3S,4R,5R)-5-(2,6-dioxo-3,7-dihydropurin-9-ium-9-yl)-3,4-dihydroxyoxolan-2-yl]methyl dihydrogen phosphate

Okay…the names are subtly different….but there are 3R and 1S centers in each name but they differ, assuming that the nomenclature programs are using consistent numbering schemes. See below.

Name generated from Isomeric SMILES on DrugBank: 2R,3R,4R,5S

Chemical Name on DrugBank: 2R,3S,4R,5R

More on this later. Looking at the linked PubChem record gives the following name: [(2R,3S,4R,5R)-5-(2,6-dioxo-3,7-dihydropurin-9-ium-9-yl)-3,4-dihydroxyoxolan-2-yl]methyl dihydrogen phosphate, exactly the same one as listed on Drugbank….so one assumes that the chemical names on DrugBank come from PubChem. Downloading the molfile from PubChem into the same software used to generate InChIs and chemical names gives:



DrugBank is linked out to the PDB ligands hosted by ChEBI and looking at the XMP ligand here we see:

[(2R,3S,4R,5R)-5-(2,6-dioxo-3H-purin-7-ium-9-yl)-3,4-dihydroxy-oxolan-2-yl]methyl dihydrogen phosphate

This is the SAME stereochemistry in the chemical name as on DrugBank, but actually a different chemical name. It is definitely possible, and common, for different systematic names to exist for the same chemical but it does indicate the challenges of linking based on different identifiers.


[(2R,3S,4R,5R)-5-(2,6-dioxo-3H-purin-7-ium-9-yl)-3,4-dihydroxy-oxolan-2-yl]methyl dihydrogen phosphate

PDBeChem: [(2R,3S,4R,5R)-5-(2,6-dioxo-3,7-dihydropurin-9-ium-9-yl)-3,4-dihydroxyoxolan-2-yl]methyl dihydrogen phosphate

The InChIKeys between the different databases/tools are:





ALL four are inconsistent.

If I convert the SMILES string listed on the PDBeChem ligand database using ACD/ChemSketch then


produces a structure with stereochemistry of 2R,3R,4S,5R and the InChIKey : DCTLYFZHFGENCW-XWTUZWARBW.

The stereochemistry on PDBeChem agrees with that on PubChem (based on the name), the connectivity part of the InChIKey is consistent with all other systems (except PubChem) but is different to all other InChIKeys. It is also possible to download “ideal” and “representative” molfiles from the PDBeChem database.

The InChIKeys between the different databases/tools are now:





PDBeChem: DCTLYFZHFGENCW-XWTUZWARBW (from Isomeric SMILES converted via ChemSketch)

PDBeCHem: DCTLYFZHFGENCW-RDKRKOOMBN (from molfile from PDBeChem, (2R,3R,4S,5R)

DrugBank also links to the Protein Databank here. XMP is listed as a ligand as shown.

The XMP ligand links here to the detailed page containing the information linked below.

5′-xanthylic acid
[(2R,3S,4R,5R)-5-(2,6-dioxo-3H-purin-7-ium-9-yl)-3,4-dihydroxy-oxolan-2-yl]methyl dihydrogen phosphate
Formula C10 H14 N4 O9 P
Molecular Weight 365.21 g/mol
Isomeric SMILES (OpenEye) c1[nH+]c2c(n1[C@H]3[C@@H]([C@@H]([C@H](O3)COP(=O)(O)O)O)O)NC(=O)NC2=O
InChI InChI=1/C10H13N4O9P/c15-5-3(1-22-24(19,20)21)23-9(6(5)16)14-2-11-4-7(14)12-10(18)13-8(4)17/h2-3,5-6,9,15-16H,1H2,(H2,19,20,21)(H2,12,13,17,18)/p+1/t3-,5-,6-,9-/m1/s1/fC10H14N4O9P/h11-13,19-20H/q+1

The InChIKeys between the different databases/tools are now:







Aagghhhhh…InChIKeys get very convoluted! What we see is that the chemical structure on PDB and on PDBeChem are the same. This is good news at least! There is a difference in the InChIKeys when I download the molfile but this can be explained easily…and in a later blog post.

We believe that the structure on PDB should be expected to be correct. We will assert this.

We expect that DrugBank is sourcing the chemical from PDB to add to their database. The chemical structure on DrugBank should coincide with that from PDB. Unfortunately the SMILES on PDB and DrugBank differ in two stereocenters. We don’t know why. Why the inconsistency? If the DrugBank data aren’t from PDB for the XMP ligand where did they come from?

Did PubChem pick up the structure of XMP from the PDB Database or from DrugBank? Let’s see. If I download the 2D molfile from PubChem and generate the chemical name and InChIs I get consistency…PubChem IS consistent with PDB. It is NOT consistent with DrugBank despite the fact that DrugBank is linked into this PubChem record.

This is a very convoluted, and maybe confusing analysis of ONE compound on DrugBank. I have looked at dozens and see similar issues. Assuming that PDB is the source database for data on DrugBank why are the structures differing so much? There are worse examples to come…the linking together of data on the web between even curated databases is an incredible mess.

Caveat: This is detailed and challenging work. I recommend anyone to check my work and see if I missed anything and confirm or challenge the observations as some of the issues I am seeing can be tool-based…the software tools I use may have issues with SMILEs conversion, molfile or SDF reading etc. It is exacting to check chemical structures…

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Posted by on August 15, 2010 in Open Science..all its forms, Software


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