This article is scary, as it calls into question one of the very simple things we take for granted…pipetting stuff!
Dispensing and dilution processes may profoundly influence estimates of biological activity of compounds. Published data show Ephrin type-B receptor 4 IC50 values obtained via tip-based serial dilution and dispensing versus acoustic dispensing with direct dilution differ by orders of magnitude with no correlation or ranking of datasets. We generated computational 3D pharmacophores based on data derived by both acoustic and tip-based transfer. The computed pharmacophores differ significantly depending upon dispensing and dilution methods. The acoustic dispensing-derived pharmacophore correctly identified active compounds in a subsequent test set where the tip-based method failed. Data from acoustic dispensing generates a pharmacophore containing two hydrophobic features, one hydrogen bond donor and one hydrogen bond acceptor. This is consistent with X-ray crystallography studies of ligand-protein interactions and automatically generated pharmacophores derived from this structural data. In contrast, the tip-based data suggest a pharmacophore with two hydrogen bond acceptors, one hydrogen bond donor and no hydrophobic features. This pharmacophore is inconsistent with the X-ray crystallographic studies and automatically generated pharmacophores. In short, traditional dispensing processes are another important source of error in high-throughput screening that impacts computational and statistical analyses. These findings have far-reaching implications in biological research.