We present a new approach to more accurately and efficiently compute the absolute binding free energy for receptor-ligand complexes. Currently, the double decoupling method (DDM) and the potential of mean force method (PMF) are widely used to compute the absolute binding free energy of biomolecular complexes. DDM relies on alchemically decoupling the ligand from its environments, which can be computationally challenging for large ligands and charged ligands because of the large magnitude of the decoupling free energies involved. In contrast, the PMF method uses a physical pathway to directly transfer the ligand from solution to the receptor binding pocket and thus avoids some of the aforementioned problems in DDM. However, the PMF method has its own drawbacks: because of its reliance on a ligand binding/unbinding pathway that is free of steric obstructions from the receptor atoms, the method has difficulty treating ligands with buried atoms. To overcome the limitation in the standard PMF approach and enable buried ligands to be treated, here we develop a new method called AlchemPMF in which steric obstructions along the physical pathway for binding are alchemically removed. We have tested the new approach on two important drug targets involving charged ligands. One is HIV-1 integrase bound to an allosteric inhibitor; the other is the human telomeric DNA G-quadruplex in complex with a natural product protoberberine buried in the binding pocket. For both systems, the new approach leads to more reliable estimates of absolute binding free energies with smaller error bars and closer agreements with experiments compared with those obtained from the existing methods, demonstrating the effectiveness of the new method in overcoming the hysteresis often encountered in PMF binding free energy calculations of such systems. The new approach could also be used to improve the sampling of water equilibration and resolvation of the binding pocket as the ligand is extracted.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Materials Science(all)