Protein–protein interactions (PPIs) play key roles in many fundamental biological processes such as cellular signaling and immune responses. However, it has proven challenging to simulate repetitive protein association and dissociation in order to calculate binding free energies and kinetics of PPIs due to long biological timescales and complex protein dynamics. To address this challenge, we have developed a new computational approach to all-atom simulations of PPIs based on a robust Gaussian accelerated molecular dynamics (GaMD) technique. The method, termed “PPI-GaMD”, selectively boosts interaction potential energy between protein partners to facilitate their slow dissociation. Meanwhile, another boost potential is applied to the remaining potential energy of the entire system to effectively model the protein’s flexibility and rebinding. PPI-GaMD has been demonstrated on a model system of the ribonuclease barnase interactions with its inhibitor barstar. Six independent 2 μs PPI-GaMD simulations have captured repetitive barstar dissociation and rebinding events, which enable calculations of the protein binding thermodynamics and kinetics simultaneously. The calculated binding free energies and kinetic rate constants agree well with the experimental data. Furthermore, PPI-GaMD simulations have provided mechanistic insights into barstar binding to barnase, which involves long-range electrostatic interactions and multiple binding pathways, being consistent with previous experimental and computational findings of this model system. In summary, PPI-GaMD provides a highly efficient and easy-to-use approach for binding free energy and kinetics calculations of PPIs.
This work describes an example of using Accelerated MD in kinetic calculations.