Bottom-up Coarse-Graining: Principles and Perspectives

J Chem Theory Comput. 2022 Oct 11;18(10):5759-5791. doi: 10.1021/acs.jctc.2c00643. Epub 2022 Sep 7.


Large-scale computational molecular models provide scientists a means to investigate the effect of microscopic details on emergent mesoscopic behavior. Elucidating the relationship between variations on the molecular scale and macroscopic observable properties facilitates an understanding of the molecular interactions driving the properties of real world materials and complex systems (e.g., those found in biology, chemistry, and materials science). As a result, discovering an explicit, systematic connection between microscopic nature and emergent mesoscopic behavior is a fundamental goal for this type of investigation. The molecular forces critical to driving the behavior of complex heterogeneous systems are often unclear. More problematically, simulations of representative model systems are often prohibitively expensive from both spatial and temporal perspectives, impeding straightforward investigations over possible hypotheses characterizing molecular behavior. While the reduction in resolution of a study, such as moving from an atomistic simulation to that of the resolution of large coarse-grained (CG) groups of atoms, can partially ameliorate the cost of individual simulations, the relationship between the proposed microscopic details and this intermediate resolution is nontrivial and presents new obstacles to study. Small portions of these complex systems can be realistically simulated. Alone, these smaller simulations likely do not provide insight into collectively emergent behavior. However, by proposing that the driving forces in both smaller and larger systems (containing many related copies of the smaller system) have an explicit connection, systematic bottom-up CG techniques can be used to transfer CG hypotheses discovered using a smaller scale system to a larger system of primary interest. The proposed connection between different CG systems is prescribed by (i) the CG representation (mapping) and (ii) the functional form and parameters used to represent the CG energetics, which approximate potentials of mean force (PMFs). As a result, the design of CG methods that facilitate a variety of physically relevant representations, approximations, and force fields is critical to moving the frontier of systematic CG forward. Crucially, the proposed connection between the system used for parametrization and the system of interest is orthogonal to the optimization used to approximate the potential of mean force present in all systematic CG methods. The empirical efficacy of machine learning techniques on a variety of tasks provides strong motivation to consider these approaches for approximating the PMF and analyzing these approximations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*