Improving the efficiency and reliability of free energy perturbation calculations using overlap sampling methods

J Comput Chem. 2004 Jan 15;25(1):28-39. doi: 10.1002/jcc.10369.


A challenge in free energy calculation for complex molecular systems by computer simulation is to obtain a reliable estimate within feasible computational time. In this study, we suggest an answer to this challenge by exploring a simple method, overlap sampling (OS), for producing reliable free-energy results in an efficient way. The formalism of the OS method is based on ensuring sampling of important overlapping phase space during perturbation calculations. This technique samples both forward and reverse free energy perturbation (FEP) to improve the free-energy calculation. It considers the asymmetry of the FEP calculation and features an ability to optimize both the precision and the accuracy of the measurement without affecting the simulation process itself. The OS method is tested at two optimization levels: no optimization (simple OS), and full optimization (equivalent to Bennett's method), and compared to conventional FEP techniques, including the widely used direct FEP averaging method, on three alchemical mutation systems: (a) an anion transformation in water solution, (b) mutation between methanol and ethane, and (c) alchemical change of an adenosine molecule. It is consistently shown that the reliability of free-energy estimates can be greatly improved using the OS techniques at both optimization levels, while the performance of Bennett's method is particularly striking. In addition, the efficiency of a calculation can be significantly improved because the method is able to (a) converge to the right answer quickly, and (b) work for large perturbations. The basic two-stage OS method can be extended to admit additional stages, if needed. We suggest that the OS method can be used as a general perturbation technique for computing free energy differences in molecular simulations.