Revisiting free energy calculations: a theoretical connection to MM/PBSA and direct calculation of the association free energy

Biophys J. 2004 Jan;86(1 Pt 1):67-74. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(04)74084-9.


The prediction of absolute ligand-receptor binding affinities is essential in a wide range of biophysical queries, from the study of protein-protein interactions to structure-based drug design. End-point free energy methods, such as the Molecular Mechanics Poisson-Boltzmann Surface Area (MM/PBSA) model, have received much attention and widespread application in recent literature. These methods benefit from computational efficiency as only the initial and final states of the system are evaluated, yet there remains a need for strengthening their theoretical foundation. Here a clear connection between statistical thermodynamics and end-point free energy models is presented. The importance of the association free energy, arising from one molecule's loss of translational and rotational freedom from the standard state concentration, is addressed. A novel method for calculating this quantity directly from a molecular dynamics simulation is described. The challenges of accounting for changes in the protein conformation and its fluctuations from separate simulations are discussed. A simple first-order approximation of the configuration integral is presented to lay the groundwork for future efforts. This model has been applied to FKBP12, a small immunophilin that has been widely studied in the drug industry for its potential immunosuppressive and neuroregenerative effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Computer Simulation
  • Energy Transfer
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Tacrolimus Binding Protein 1A / chemistry*


  • Tacrolimus Binding Protein 1A