Finding transition pathways using the string method with swarms of trajectories

J Phys Chem B. 2008 Mar 20;112(11):3432-40. doi: 10.1021/jp0777059. Epub 2008 Feb 22.


An approach to find transition pathways in complex systems is presented. The method, which is related to the string method in collective variables of Maragliano et al. (J. Chem. Phys. 2006, 125, 024106), is conceptually simple and straightforward to implement. It consists of refining a putative transition path in the multidimensional space supported by a set of collective variables using the average dynamic drift of those variables. This drift is estimated on-the-fly via swarms of short unbiased trajectories started at different points along the path. Successive iterations of this algorithm, which can be naturally distributed over many computer nodes with negligible interprocessor communication, refine an initial trial path toward the most probable transition path (MPTP) between two stable basins. The method is first tested by determining the pathway for the C7eq to C7ax transition in an all-atom model of the alanine dipeptide in vacuum, which has been studied previously with the string method in collective variables. A transition path is found with a committor distribution peaked at 1/2 near the free energy maximum, in accord with previous results. Last, the method is applied to the allosteric conformational change in the nitrogen regulatory protein C (NtrC), represented here with a two-state elastic network model. Even though more than 550 collective variables are used to describe the conformational change, the path converges rapidly. Again, the committor distribution is found to be peaked around 1/2 near the free energy maximum between the two stable states, confirming that a genuine transition state has been localized in this complex multidimensional system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alanine / chemistry*
  • Algorithms*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Dipeptides / chemistry*
  • Energy Transfer
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Nitrogen / chemistry
  • Thermodynamics


  • Dipeptides
  • Nitrogen
  • Alanine