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How to deal with multiple binding poses in alchemical relative protein-ligand binding free energy calculations

  • Author(s): Kaus, JW
  • Harder, E
  • Lin, T
  • Abel, R
  • McCammon, JA
  • Wang, L
  • et al.

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© 2015 American Chemical Society. Recent advances in improved force fields and sampling methods have made it possible for the accurate calculation of protein-ligand binding free energies. Alchemical free energy perturbation (FEP) using an explicit solvent model is one of the most rigorous methods to calculate relative binding free energies. However, for cases where there are high energy barriers separating the relevant conformations that are important for ligand binding, the calculated free energy may depend on the initial conformation used in the simulation due to the lack of complete sampling of all the important regions in phase space. This is particularly true for ligands with multiple possible binding modes separated by high energy barriers, making it difficult to sample all relevant binding modes even with modern enhanced sampling methods. In this paper, we apply a previously developed method that provides a corrected binding free energy for ligands with multiple binding modes by combining the free energy results from multiple alchemical FEP calculations starting from all enumerated poses, and the results are compared with Glide docking and MM-GBSA calculations. From these calculations, the dominant ligand binding mode can also be predicted. We apply this method to a series of ligands that bind to c-Jun N-terminal kinase-1 (JNK1) and obtain improved free energy results. The dominant ligand binding modes predicted by this method agree with the available crystallography, while both Glide docking and MM-GBSA calculations incorrectly predict the binding modes for some ligands. The method also helps separate the force field error from the ligand sampling error, such that deviations in the predicted binding free energy from the experimental values likely indicate possible inaccuracies in the force field. An error in the force field for a subset of the ligands studied was identified using this method, and improved free energy results were obtained by correcting the partial charges assigned to the ligands. This improved the root-mean-square error (RMSE) for the predicted binding free energy from 1.9 kcal/mol with the original partial charges to 1.3 kcal/mol with the corrected partial charges.

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