An efficient strategy to estimate thermodynamics and kinetics of G protein-coupled receptor activation using metadynamics and maximum caliber

J Chem Phys. 2018 Dec 14;149(22):224101. doi: 10.1063/1.5060960.


Computational strategies aimed at unveiling the thermodynamic and kinetic properties of G Protein-Coupled Receptor (GPCR) activation require extensive molecular dynamics simulations of the receptor embedded in an explicit lipid-water environment. A possible method for efficiently sampling the conformational space of such a complex system is metadynamics (MetaD) with path collective variables (CVs). Here, we applied well-tempered MetaD with path CVs to one of the few GPCRs for which both inactive and fully active experimental structures are available, the μ-opioid receptor (MOR), and assessed the ability of this enhanced sampling method to estimate the thermodynamic properties of receptor activation in line with those obtained by more computationally expensive adaptive sampling protocols. While n-body information theory analysis of these simulations confirmed that MetaD can efficiently characterize ligand-induced allosteric communication across the receptor, standard MetaD cannot be used directly to derive kinetic rates because transitions are accelerated by a bias potential. Applying the principle of Maximum Caliber (MaxCal) to the free-energy landscape of morphine-bound MOR reconstructed from MetaD, we obtained Markov state models that yield kinetic rates of MOR activation in agreement with those obtained by adaptive sampling. Taken together, these results suggest that the MetaD-MaxCal combination creates an efficient strategy for estimating the thermodynamic and kinetic properties of GPCR activation at an affordable computational cost.

MeSH terms

  • Kinetics
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Morphine / chemistry
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / chemistry*
  • Thermodynamics*


  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Morphine