ISiCLE: A molecular collision cross section calculation pipeline for establishing large in silico reference libraries for compound identification
High throughput, comprehensive, and confident identifications of metabolites and other chemicals in biological and environmental samples will revolutionize our understanding of the role these chemically diverse molecules play in biological systems. Despite recent technological advances, metabolomics studies still result in the detection of a disproportionate number of features than cannot be confidently assigned to a chemical structure. This inadequacy is driven by the single most significant limitation in metabolomics: the reliance on reference libraries constructed by analysis of authentic reference chemicals with limited commercial availability. To this end, we have developed the in silico chemical library engine (ISiCLE), a high-performance computing-friendly cheminformatics workflow for generating libraries of chemical properties. In the instantiation described here, we predict probable three-dimensional molecular conformers (i.e. conformational isomers) using chemical identifiers as input, from which collision cross sections (CCS) are derived. The approach employs state-of-the-art first-principles simulation, distinguished by use of molecular dynamics, quantum chemistry, and ion mobility calculations to generate structures and libraries, all without training data. Importantly, optimization of ISiCLE included a refactoring of the popular MOBCAL code for trajectory-based mobility calculations, improving its computational efficiency by over two orders of magnitude. Calculated CCS values were validated against 1,983 experimentally-measured CCS values and compared to previously reported CCS calculation approaches. Average calculated CCS error for the validation set is 3.2% using standard parameters—outperforming other density functional theory (DFT)-based methods in the literature and MetCCS. An online database is introduced for sharing both calculated and experimental CCS values (metabolomics.pnnl.gov), initially including a CCS library with over 1 million entries. Finally, three successful applications of molecule characterization using calculated CCS are described, including the identification of an environmental degradation product, the separation and identification of molecular isomers, and the decoding of complex blinded mixtures of exposure chemicals. This work represents a promising method to address the limitations of small molecule identification, and offers alternatives to standards-based chemical identification amenable to high-performance computation.