Residual Structures and Transient Long-Range Interactions of p53 Transactivation Domain: Assessment of Explicit Solvent Protein Force Fields

J Chem Theory Comput. 2019 Aug 13;15(8):4708-4720. doi: 10.1021/acs.jctc.9b00397. Epub 2019 Jul 10.


Molecular dynamics simulations using physics-based atomistic force fields have been increasingly used to characterize the heterogeneous structural ensembles of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). To evaluate the accuracy of the latest atomistic explicit-solvent force fields in modeling larger IDPs with nontrivial structural features, we focus on the 61-residue N-terminal transactivation domain (TAD) of tumor suppressor p53, an important protein in cancer biology that has been extensively studied, and abundant experimental data is available for evaluation of simulated ensembles. We performed extensive replica exchange with solute tempering simulations, in excess of 1.0 μs/replica, to generate disordered structural ensembles of p53-TAD using six latest explicit solvent protein force fields. Multiple local and long-range structural properties, including chain dimension, residual secondary structures, and transient long-range contacts, were analyzed and compared against available experimental data. The results show that IDPs such as p53-TAD remain highly challenging for atomistic simulations due to conformational complexity and difficulty in achieving adequate convergence. Structural ensembles of p53-TAD generated using various force fields differ significantly from each other. The a99SB-disp force field demonstrates the best agreement with experimental data at all levels and proves to be suitable for simulating unbound p53-TAD and how its conformational properties may be modulated by phosphorylation and other cellular signals or cancer-associated mutations. Feasibility of such detailed structural characterization is a key step toward establishing the sequence-disordered ensemble-function-disease relationship of p53 and other biologically important IDPs.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins / chemistry*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Domains
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / chemistry*


  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins
  • TP53 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53