• computational chemistry;
  • free energy of hydration;
  • 5,5,5,5′,5′,5′-hexafluoroleucine;
  • thermodynamic integration;
  • rotamers


The α-helical coiled-coil is one of the most common oligomerization motifs found in both native and engineered proteins. To better understand the stability and dynamics of the coiled-coil motifs, including those modified by fluorination, several fluorinated and nonfluorinated parallel dimeric coiled-coil protein structures were designed and modeled. We also attempt to investigate how changing the length and geometry of the important stabilizing salt bridges influences the coiled-coil protein structure. Molecular dynamics (MD) and free energy simulations with AMBER used a particle mesh Ewald treatment of the electrostatics in explicit TIP3P solvent with balanced force field treatments. Preliminary studies with legacy force fields (ff94, ff96, and ff99) show a profound instability of the coiled-coil structures in short MD simulation. Significantly, better behavior is evident with the more balanced ff99SB and ff03 protein force fields. Overall, the results suggest that the coiled-coil structures can readily accommodate the larger acidic arginine or S-2,7-diaminoheptanedoic acid mutants in the salt bridge, whereas substitution of the smaller L-ornithine residue leads to rapid disruption of the coiled-coil structure on the MD simulation time scale. This structural distortion of the secondary structure allows both the formation of large hydration pockets proximal to the charged groups and within the hydrophobic core. Moreover, the increased structural fluctuations and movement lead to a decrease in the water occupancy lifetimes in the hydration pockets. In contrast, analysis of the hydration in the stable dimeric coiled-coils shows high occupancy water sites along the backbone residues with no water occupancy in the hydrophobic core, although transitory water interactions with the salt bridge residues are evident. The simulations of the fluorinated coiled-coils suggest that in some cases fluorination electrostatically stabilizes the intermolecular coiled-coil salt bridges. Structural analyses also reveal different side chain rotamer preferences for leucine when compared with 5,5,5,5′,5′,5′-hexafluoroleucine mutants. These observed differences in the side chain rotamer populations suggest differential changes in the side chain conformational entropy upon coiled-coil formation when the protein is fluorinated. The free energy of hydration of the isolated 5,5,5,5′,5′,5′-hexafluoroleucine amino acid is calculated to be 1.1 kcal/mol less stable than leucine; this hydrophobic penalty in the monomer may provide a driving force for coiled-coil dimer formation. Estimation of the ellipticity at 222 nm from a series of snapshots from the MD simulations with DicroCalc shows distinct increases in the ellipticity when the coiled-coil is fluorinated, which suggests that the helicity in the folded coiled-coils is greater when fluorinated. Proteins 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.