Development and validation of PAMPA-BBB QSAR model to predict brain penetration potential of novel drug candidates

Rintaro Kato, Wenyu Zeng, Vishal B. Siramshetty, Jordan Williams, Md Kabir, Natalie Hagen, Elias C. Padilha, Amy Q. Wang, Ewy A. Mathé, Xin Xu, Pranav Shah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Efficiently circumventing the blood-brain barrier (BBB) poses a major hurdle in the development of drugs that target the central nervous system. Although there are several methods to determine BBB permeability of small molecules, the Parallel Artificial Membrane Permeability Assay (PAMPA) is one of the most common assays in drug discovery due to its robust and high-throughput nature. Drug discovery is a long and costly venture, thus, any advances to streamline this process are beneficial. In this study, ∼2,000 compounds from over 60 NCATS projects were screened in the PAMPA-BBB assay to develop a quantitative structure-activity relationship model to predict BBB permeability of small molecules. After analyzing both state-of-the-art and latest machine learning methods, we found that random forest based on RDKit descriptors as additional features provided the best training balanced accuracy (0.70 ± 0.015) and a message-passing variant of graph convolutional neural network that uses RDKit descriptors provided the highest balanced accuracy (0.72) on a prospective validation set. Finally, we correlated in vitro PAMPA-BBB data with in vivo brain permeation data in rodents to observe a categorical correlation of 77%, suggesting that models developed using data from PAMPA-BBB can forecast in vivo brain permeability. Given that majority of prior research has relied on in vitro or in vivo data for assessing BBB permeability, our model, developed using the largest PAMPA-BBB dataset to date, offers an orthogonal means to estimate BBB permeability of small molecules. We deposited a subset of our data into PubChem bioassay database (AID: 1845228) and deployed the best performing model on the NCATS Open Data ADME portal ( These initiatives were undertaken with the aim of providing valuable resources for the drug discovery community.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1291246
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • ADME
  • blood-brain barrier (BBB)
  • computational drug design
  • drug discovery
  • parallel artificial membrane permeability assay (PAMPA)
  • quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR)

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