Principal component analysis (PCA) and normal mode analysis (NMA) have emerged as two invaluable tools for studying conformational changes in proteins. To compare these approaches for studying protein dynamics, we have used a subunit of the GroEL chaperone, whose dynamics is well characterized. We first show that both PCA on trajectories from molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and NMA reveal a general dynamical behavior in agreement with what has previously been described for GroEL. We thus compare the reproducibility of PCA on independent MD runs and subsequently investigate the influence of the length of the MD simulations. We show that there is a relatively poor one-to-one correspondence between eigenvectors obtained from two independent runs and conclude that caution should be taken when analyzing principal components individually. We also observe that increasing the simulation length does not improve the agreement with the experimental structural difference. In fact, relatively short MD simulations are sufficient for this purpose. We observe a rapid convergence of the eigenvectors (after ca. 6 ns). Although there is not always a clear one-to-one correspondence, there is a qualitatively good agreement between the movements described by the first five modes obtained with the three different approaches; PCA, all-atoms NMA, and coarse-grained NMA. It is particularly interesting to relate this to the computational cost of the three methods. The results we obtain on the GroEL subunit contribute to the generalization of robust and reproducible strategies for the study of protein dynamics, using either NMA or PCA of trajectories from MD simulations. Proteins 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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