Level-Set Variational Implicit-Solvent Modeling of Biomolecules with the Coulomb-Field Approximation

J Chem Theory Comput. 2012 Feb 14;8(2):386-397. doi: 10.1021/ct200647j. Epub 2011 Dec 19.


Central in the variational implicit-solvent model (VISM) [Dzubiella, Swanson, and McCammon Phys. Rev. Lett.2006, 96, 087802 and J. Chem. Phys.2006, 124, 084905] of molecular solvation is a mean-field free-energy functional of all possible solute-solvent interfaces or dielectric boundaries. Such a functional can be minimized numerically by a level-set method to determine stable equilibrium conformations and solvation free energies. Applications to nonpolar systems have shown that the level-set VISM is efficient and leads to qualitatively and often quantitatively correct results. In particular, it is capable of capturing capillary evaporation in hydrophobic confinement and corresponding multiple equilibrium states as found in molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. In this work, we introduce into the VISM the Coulomb-field approximation of the electrostatic free energy. Such an approximation is a volume integral over an arbitrary shaped solvent region, requiring no solutions to any partial differential equations. With this approximation, we obtain the effective boundary force and use it as the "normal velocity" in the level-set relaxation. We test the new approach by calculating solvation free energies and potentials of mean force for small and large molecules, including the two-domain protein BphC. Our results reveal the importance of coupling polar and nonpolar interactions in the underlying molecular systems. In particular, dehydration near the domain interface of BphC subunits is found to be highly sensitive to local electrostatic potentials as seen in previous MD simulations. This is a first step toward capturing the complex protein dehydration process by an implicit-solvent approach.