Benchmark Study of the SCC-DFTB Approach for a Biomolecular Proton Channel

J Chem Theory Comput. 2014 Jan 14;10(1):451-462. doi: 10.1021/ct400832r.


The self-consistent charge density functional tight binding (SCC-DFTB) method has been increasingly applied to study proton transport (PT) in biological environments. However, recent studies revealing some significant limitations of SCC-DFTB for proton and hydroxide solvation and transport in bulk aqueous systems call into question its accuracy for simulating PT in biological systems. The current work benchmarks the SCC-DFTB/MM method against more accurate DFT/MM by simulating PT in a synthetic leucine-serine channel (LS2), which emulates the structure and function of biomolecular proton channels. It is observed that SCC-DFTB/MM produces over-coordinated and less structured pore water, an over-coordinated excess proton, weak hydrogen bonds around the excess proton charge defect and qualitatively different PT dynamics. Similar issues are demonstrated for PT in a carbon nanotube, indicating that the inaccuracies found for SCC-DFTB are not due to the point charge based QM/MM electrostatic coupling scheme, but rather to the approximations of the semiempirical method itself. The results presented in this work highlight the limitations of the present form of the SCC-DFTB/MM approach for simulating PT processes in biological protein or channel-like environments, while providing benchmark results that may lead to an improvement of the underlying method.

Keywords: DFT; Density Functional Theory; LS2; Proton Transport; QM/MM; SCC-DFTB; Self-Consistent Charge Density Functional Tight Binding; synthetic Leucine-Serine channel.