A new method for calculating the total conformational free energy of proteins in water solvent is presented. The method consists of a relatively brief simulation by molecular dynamics with explicit solvent (ES) molecules to produce a set of microstates of the macroscopic conformation. Conformational energy and entropy are obtained from the simulation, the latter in the quasi-harmonic approximation by analysis of the covariance matrix. The implicit solvent (IS) dielectric continuum model is used to calculate the average solvation free energy as the sum of the free energies of creating the solute-size hydrophobic cavity, of the van der Waals solute-solvent interactions, and of the polarization of water solvent by the solute's charges. The reliability of the solvation free energy depends on a number of factors: the details of arrangement of the protein's charges, especially those near the surface; the definition of the molecular surface; and the method chosen for solving the Poisson equation. Molecular dynamics simulation in explicit solvent relaxes the protein's conformation and allows polar surface groups to assume conformations compatible with interaction with solvent, while averaging of internal energy and solvation free energy tend to enhance the precision. Two recently developed methods—SIMS, for calculation of a smooth invariant molecular surface, and FAMBE, for solution of the Poisson equation via a fast adaptive multigrid boundary element—have been employed. The SIMS and FAMBE programs scale linearly with the number of atoms. SIMS is superior to Connolly's MS (molecular surface) program: it is faster, more accurate, and more stable, and it smooths singularities of the molecular surface. Solvation free energies calculated with these two programs do not depend on molecular position or orientation and are stable along a molecular dynamics trajectory. We have applied this method to calculate the conformational free energy of native and intentionally misfolded globular conformations of proteins (the EMBL set of deliberately misfolded proteins) and have obtained good discrimination in favor of the native conformations in all instances. Proteins 32:399–413, 1998. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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