• colicin–immunity protein interaction;
  • hot-spot interface residues;
  • alchemical transformation;
  • molecular dynamic simulations;
  • free energy calculations


The endonuclease activity of the bacterial colicin 9 enzyme is controlled by the specific and high-affinity binding of immunity protein 9 (Im9). Molecular dynamics simulation studies in explicit solvent were used to investigate the free energy change associated with the mutation of two hot-spot interface residues [tyrosine (Tyr): Tyr54 and Tyr55] of Im9 to Ala. In addition, the effect of several other mutations (Leu33Ala, Leu52Ala, Val34Ala, Val37Ala, Ser48Ala, and Ile53Ala) with smaller influence on binding affinity was also studied. Good qualitative agreement of calculated free energy changes and experimental data on binding affinity of the mutations was observed. The simulation studies can help to elucidate the molecular details on how the mutations influence protein–protein binding affinity. The role of solvent and conformational flexibility of the partner proteins was studied by comparing the results in the presence or absence of solvent and with or without positional restraints. Restriction of the conformational mobility of protein partners resulted in significant changes of the calculated free energies but of similar magnitude for isolated Im9 and for the complex and therefore in only modest changes of binding free energy differences. Although the overall binding free energy change was similar for the two Tyr–Ala mutations, the physical origin appeared to be different with solvation changes contributing significantly to the Tyr55Ala mutation and to a loss of direct protein–protein interactions dominating the free energy change due to the Tyr54Ala mutation. Proteins 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.