Ensemble MD simulations restrained via crystallographic data: Accurate structure leads to accurate dynamics


  • Yi Xue,

    1. Department of Chemistry, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
    Current affiliation:
    1. Yi Xue's current address is Department of Chemistry & Biophysics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
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  • Nikolai R. Skrynnikov

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Chemistry, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
    2. Laboratory of Biomolecular NMR, St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia
    • Correspondence to: Nikolai Skrynnikov; Department of Chemistry, Purdue University, 560 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2084, USA. E-mail:

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Currently, the best existing molecular dynamics (MD) force fields cannot accurately reproduce the global free-energy minimum which realizes the experimental protein structure. As a result, long MD trajectories tend to drift away from the starting coordinates (e.g., crystallographic structures). To address this problem, we have devised a new simulation strategy aimed at protein crystals. An MD simulation of protein crystal is essentially an ensemble simulation involving multiple protein molecules in a crystal unit cell (or a block of unit cells). To ensure that average protein coordinates remain correct during the simulation, we introduced crystallography-based restraints into the MD protocol. Because these restraints are aimed at the ensemble-average structure, they have only minimal impact on conformational dynamics of the individual protein molecules. So long as the average structure remains reasonable, the proteins move in a native-like fashion as dictated by the original force field. To validate this approach, we have used the data from solid-state NMR spectroscopy, which is the orthogonal experimental technique uniquely sensitive to protein local dynamics. The new method has been tested on the well-established model protein, ubiquitin. The ensemble-restrained MD simulations produced lower crystallographic R factors than conventional simulations; they also led to more accurate predictions for crystallographic temperature factors, solid-state chemical shifts, and backbone order parameters. The predictions for 15N inline image relaxation rates are at least as accurate as those obtained from conventional simulations. Taken together, these results suggest that the presented trajectories may be among the most realistic protein MD simulations ever reported. In this context, the ensemble restraints based on high-resolution crystallographic data can be viewed as protein-specific empirical corrections to the standard force fields.