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Workshop: AI for Science: from Theory to Practice

Protein Language Model-Powered 3-Dimensional Ligand Binding Site Prediction from Protein Sequence

Shuo Zhang · Lei Xie


Prediction of ligand binding sites of proteins is a fundamental and important task for understanding the function of proteins and screening potential drugs. Most existing methods require experimentally determined protein holo-structures as input. However, such structures can be unavailable on novel or less-studied proteins. To tackle this limitation, we propose LaMPSite, which only takes protein sequences and ligand molecular graphs as input for ligand binding site predictions. The protein sequences are used to retrieve residue-level embeddings and contact maps from the pre-trained ESM-2 protein language model. The ligand molecular graphs are fed into a graph neural network to compute atom-level embeddings. Then we compute and update the protein-ligand interaction embedding based on the protein residue-level embeddings and ligand atom-level embeddings, and the geometric constraints in the inferred protein contact map and ligand distance map. A final pooling on protein-ligand interaction embedding would indicate which residues belong to the binding sites. Without any 3D coordinate information of proteins, our proposed model achieves competitive performance compared to baseline methods that require 3D protein structures when predicting binding sites. Given that less than 50% of proteins have reliable structure information in the current stage, LaMPSite will provide new opportunities for drug discovery.

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