Induced fit or conformational selection? The role of the semi-closed state in the maltose binding protein

Biochemistry. 2011 Dec 6;50(48):10530-9. doi: 10.1021/bi201481a. Epub 2011 Nov 10.


A full characterization of the thermodynamic forces underlying ligand-associated conformational changes in proteins is essential for understanding and manipulating diverse biological processes, including transport, signaling, and enzymatic activity. Recent experiments on the maltose binding protein (MBP) have provided valuable data about the different conformational states implicated in the ligand recognition process; however, a complete picture of the accessible pathways and the associated changes in free energy remains elusive. Here we describe results from advanced accelerated molecular dynamics (aMD) simulations, coupled with adaptively biased force (ABF) and thermodynamic integration (TI) free energy methods. The combination of approaches allows us to track the ligand recognition process on the microsecond time scale and provides a detailed characterization of the protein's dynamic and the relative energy of stable states. We find that an induced-fit (IF) mechanism is most likely and that a mechanism involving both a conformational selection (CS) step and an IF step is also possible. The complete recognition process is best viewed as a "Pac Man" type action where the ligand is initially localized to one domain and naturally occurring hinge-bending vibrations in the protein are able to assist the recognition process by increasing the chances of a favorable encounter with side chains on the other domain, leading to a population shift. This interpretation is consistent with experiments and provides new insight into the complex recognition mechanism. The methods employed here are able to describe IF and CS effects and provide formally rigorous means of computing free energy changes. As such, they are superior to conventional MD and flexible docking alone and hold great promise for future development and applications to drug discovery.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Ligands
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins / pharmacokinetics
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Protein Binding / physiology
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Thermodynamics
  • Trisaccharides / chemistry
  • Trisaccharides / pharmacokinetics


  • Ligands
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins
  • Trisaccharides
  • maltotriose