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S. Muff; A. Caflisch

Journal: J. Chem. Phys.
Year: 2009
Volume: 130
Issue: 12
Pages: 125104
DOI: 10.1063/1.3099705
Type of Publication: Journal Article

Markov Chains; Models, Molecular; Protein Folding; Proteins; Thermodynamics


The rate of protein folding is governed by the transition state so that a detailed characterization of its structure is essential for understanding the folding process. In vitro experiments have provided a coarse-grained description of the folding transition state ensemble (TSE) of small proteins. Atomistic details could be obtained by molecular dynamics (MD) simulations but it is not straightforward to extract the TSE directly from the MD trajectories, even for small peptides. Here, the structures in the TSE are isolated by the cut-based free-energy profile (cFEP) using the network whose nodes and links are configurations sampled by MD and direct transitions among them, respectively. The cFEP is a barrier-preserving projection that does not require arbitrarily chosen progress variables. First, a simple two-dimensional free-energy surface is used to illustrate the successful determination of the TSE by the cFEP approach and to explain the difficulty in defining boundary conditions of the Markov state model for an entropically stabilized free-energy minimum. The cFEP is then used to extract the TSE of a β-sheet peptide with a complex free-energy surface containing multiple basins and an entropic region. In contrast, Markov state models with boundary conditions defined by projected variables and conventional histogram-based free-energy profiles are not able to identify the TSE of the β-sheet peptide.