Background: Molecular fingerprints are essential cheminformatics tools for virtual screening and mapping chemical space. Among the different types of fingerprints, substructure fingerprints perform best for small molecules such as drugs, while atom-pair fingerprints are preferable for large molecules such as peptides. However, no available fingerprint achieves good performance on both classes of molecules.
Results: Here we set out to design a new fingerprint suitable for both small and large molecules by combining substructure and atom-pair concepts. Our quest resulted in a new fingerprint called MinHashed atom-pair fingerprint up to a diameter of four bonds (MAP4). In this fingerprint the circular substructures with radii of r = 1 and r = 2 bonds around each atom in an atom-pair are written as two pairs of SMILES, each pair being combined with the topological distance separating the two central atoms. These so-called atom-pair molecular shingles are hashed, and the resulting set of hashes is MinHashed to form the MAP4 fingerprint. MAP4 significantly outperforms all other fingerprints on an extended benchmark that combines the Riniker and Landrum small molecule benchmark with a peptide benchmark recovering BLAST analogs from either scrambled or point mutation analogs. MAP4 furthermore produces well-organized chemical space tree-maps (TMAPs) for databases as diverse as DrugBank, ChEMBL, SwissProt and the Human Metabolome Database (HMBD), and differentiates between all metabolites in HMBD, over 70 % of which are indistinguishable from their nearest neighbor using substructure fingerprints.Conclusion: MAP4 is a new molecular fingerprint suitable for drugs, biomolecules, and the metabolome and can be adopted as a universal fingerprint to describe and search chemical space. The source code is available at https://github.com/reymond-group/map4 and interactive MAP4 similarity search tools and TMAPs for various databases are accessible at http://map-search.gdb.tools/ and http://tm.gdb.tools/map4/.