Two are better than one: Quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) methods are the state-of-the-art computational technique for treating reactive and other “electronic” processes in biomolecular systems. This Review presents the general methodological aspects of the QM/MM approach, its use within optimization and simulation techniques, and its areas of application, always with a biomolecular focus.
Combined quantum-mechanics/molecular-mechanics (QM/MM) approaches have become the method of choice for modeling reactions in biomolecular systems. Quantum-mechanical (QM) methods are required for describing chemical reactions and other electronic processes, such as charge transfer or electronic excitation. However, QM methods are restricted to systems of up to a few hundred atoms. However, the size and conformational complexity of biopolymers calls for methods capable of treating up to several 100 000 atoms and allowing for simulations over time scales of tens of nanoseconds. This is achieved by highly efficient, force-field-based molecular mechanics (MM) methods. Thus to model large biomolecules the logical approach is to combine the two techniques and to use a QM method for the chemically active region (e.g., substrates and co-factors in an enzymatic reaction) and an MM treatment for the surroundings (e.g., protein and solvent). The resulting schemes are commonly referred to as combined or hybrid QM/MM methods. They enable the modeling of reactive biomolecular systems at a reasonable computational effort while providing the necessary accuracy.