Evaluating molecular docking software for small molecule binding to G-quadruplex DNA

Jonathan Dickerhoff, Kassandra R. Warnecke, Kaibo Wang, Nanjie Deng, Danzhou Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


G-quadruplexes are four-stranded nucleic acid secondary structures of biological significance and have emerged as an attractive drug target. The G4 formed in the MYC promoter (MycG4) is one of the most studied small-molecule targets, and a model system for parallel structures that are prevalent in promoter DNA G4s and RNA G4s. Molecular docking has become an essential tool in structure-based drug discovery for protein targets, and is also increasingly applied to G4 DNA. However, DNA, and in particular G4, binding sites differ significantly from protein targets. Here we perform the first systematic evaluation of four commonly used docking programs (AutoDock Vina, DOCK 6, Glide, and RxDock) for G4 DNA-ligand binding pose prediction using four small molecules whose complex structures with the MycG4 have been experimentally determined in so-lution. The results indicate that there are considerable differences in the performance of the docking programs and that DOCK 6 with GB/SA rescoring performs better than the other programs. We found that docking accuracy is mainly limited by the scoring functions. The study shows that current docking programs should be used with caution to predict G4 DNA-small molecule binding modes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10801
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • Docking
  • Drug design
  • G-quadruplex
  • G4-ligands
  • Pose prediction
  • Scoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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