Calculation of protein heat capacity from replica-exchange molecular dynamics simulations with different implicit solvent models

J Phys Chem B. 2008 Nov 27;112(47):15064-73. doi: 10.1021/jp802469g.


The heat capacity has played a major role in relating microscopic and macroscopic properties of proteins and their disorder-order phase transition of folding. Its calculation by atomistic simulation methods remains a significant challenge due to the complex and dynamic nature of protein structures, their solvent environment, and configurational averaging. To better understand these factors on calculating a protein heat capacity, we provide a comparative analysis of simulation models that differ in their implicit solvent description and force-field resolution. Our model protein system is the src Homology 3 (SH3) domain of alpha-spectrin, and we report a series of 10 ns replica-exchange molecular dynamics simulations performed at temperatures ranging from 298 to 550 K, starting from the SH3 native structure. We apply the all-atom CHARMM22 force field with different modified analytical generalized Born solvent models (GBSW and GBMV2) and compare these simulation models with the distance-dependent dielectric screening of charge-charge interactions. A further comparison is provided with the united-atom CHARMM19 plus a pairwise GB model. Unfolding-folding transition temperatures of SH3 were estimated from the temperature-dependent profiles of the heat capacity, root-mean-square distance from the native structure, and the fraction of native contacts, each calculated from the density of states by using the weighted histogram analysis method. We observed that, for CHARMM22, the unfolding transition and energy probability density were quite sensitive to the implicit solvent description, in particular, the treatment of the protein-solvent dielectric boundary in GB models and their surface-area-based hydrophobic term. Among the solvent models tested, the calculated melting temperature varied in the range 353-438 K and was higher than the experimental value near 340 K. A reformulated GBMV2 model of employing a smoother molecular-volume dielectric interface was the most accurate in reproducing the native conformation and a two-state folding landscape, although the melting transition temperature did not show the smallest deviation from experiment. For the lower-resolution CHARMM19/GB model, the simulations failed to yield a bimodal energy distribution, yet the melting temperature was observed to be a good estimate of higher-resolution simulation models. We also demonstrate that a careful analysis of a relatively long simulation is necessary to avoid trapping in local minima and to find a true thermodynamic transition temperature.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Thermodynamics


  • Proteins