Theoretical restrictions on longest implicit time scales in Markov state models of biomolecular dynamics

J Chem Phys. 2018 Jan 28;148(4):044111. doi: 10.1063/1.5005058.


Markov state models (MSMs) have been widely used to analyze computer simulations of various biomolecular systems. They can capture conformational transitions much slower than an average or maximal length of a single molecular dynamics (MD) trajectory from the set of trajectories used to build the MSM. A rule of thumb claiming that the slowest implicit time scale captured by an MSM should be comparable by the order of magnitude to the aggregate duration of all MD trajectories used to build this MSM has been known in the field. However, this rule has never been formally proved. In this work, we present analytical results for the slowest time scale in several types of MSMs, supporting the above rule. We conclude that the slowest implicit time scale equals the product of the aggregate sampling and four factors that quantify: (1) how much statistics on the conformational transitions corresponding to the longest implicit time scale is available, (2) how good the sampling of the destination Markov state is, (3) the gain in statistics from using a sliding window for counting transitions between Markov states, and (4) a bias in the estimate of the implicit time scale arising from finite sampling of the conformational transitions. We demonstrate that in many practically important cases all these four factors are on the order of unity, and we analyze possible scenarios that could lead to their significant deviation from unity. Overall, we provide for the first time analytical results on the slowest time scales captured by MSMs. These results can guide further practical applications of MSMs to biomolecular dynamics and allow for higher computational efficiency of simulations.