Background: Discerning the similarity between molecules is a challenging problem in drug discovery as well as in molecular biology. The importance of this problem is due to the fact that the biochemical characteristics of a molecule are closely related to its structure. Therefore molecular similarity is a key notion in investigations targeting exploration of molecular structural space, query-retrieval in molecular databases, and structure-activity modelling. Determining molecular similarity is related to the choice of molecular representation. Currently, representations with high descriptive power and physical relevance like 3D surface-based descriptors are available. Information from such representations is both surface-based and volumetric. However, most techniques for determining molecular similarity tend to focus on idealized 2D graph-based descriptors due to the complexity that accompanies reasoning with more elaborate representations. Results: This paper addresses the problem of determining similarity when molecules are described using complex surface-based representations. It proposes an intrinsic, spherical representation that systematically maps points on a molecular surface to points on a standard coordinate system (
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