Towards interoperable and reproducible QSAR analyses: Exchange of datasets

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Published: 2010-06-30

Formatted citation

Spjuth O, Willighagen EL, Guha R, Eklund M, Wikberg JES. Towards interoperable and reproducible QSAR analyses: Exchange of datasets.
Journal of Cheminformatics. 2, 1 (2010). DOI: 10.1186/1758-2946-2-5


Background. QSAR is a widely used method to relate chemical structures to responses or properties based on experimental observations. Much effort has been made to evaluate and validate the statistical modeling in QSAR, but these analyses treat the dataset as fixed. An overlooked but highly important issue is the validation of the setup of the dataset, which comprises addition of chemical structures as well as selection of descriptors and software implementations prior to calculations. This process is hampered by the lack of standards and exchange formats in the field, making it virtually impossible to reproduce and validate analyses and drastically constrain collaborations and re-use of data. Results. We present a step towards standardizing QSAR analyses by defining interoperable and reproducible QSAR datasets, consisting of an open XML format (QSAR-ML) which builds on an open and extensible descriptor ontology. The ontology provides an extensible way of uniquely defining descriptors for use in QSAR experiments, and the exchange format supports multiple versioned implementations of these descriptors. Hence, a dataset described by QSAR-ML makes its setup completely reproducible. We also provide a reference implementation as a set of plugins for Bioclipse which simplifies setup of QSAR datasets, and allows for exporting in QSAR-ML as well as old-fashioned CSV formats. The implementation facilitates addition of new descriptor implementations from locally installed software and remote Web services; the latter is demonstrated with REST and XMPP Web services. Conclusions. Standardized QSAR datasets open up new ways to store, query, and exchange data for subsequent analyses. QSAR-ML supports completely reproducible creation of datasets, solving the problems of defining which software components were used and their versions, and the descriptor ontology eliminates confusions regarding descriptors by defining them crisply. This makes is easy to join, extend, combine datasets and hence work collectively, but also allows for analyzing the effect descriptors have on the statistical model's performance. The presented Bioclipse plugins equip scientists with graphical tools that make QSAR-ML easily accessible for the community. © 2010 Spjuth et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.