Discrimination of near-native protein structures from misfolded models by empirical free energy functions

David W. Gatchell, Sheldon Dennis, Sandor Vajda*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Free energy potentials, combining molecular mechanics with empirical solvation and entropic terms, are used to discriminate native and near-native protein conformations from slightly misfolded decoys. Since the functional forms of these potentials vary within the field, it is of interest to determine the contributions of individual free energy terms and their combinations to the discriminative power of the potential. This is achieved in terms of quantitative measures of discrimination that include the correlation coefficient between RMSD and free energy, and a new measure labeled the minimum discriminatory slope (MDS). In terms of these criteria, the internal energy is shown to be a good discriminator on its own, which implies that even well-constructed decoys are substantially more strained than the native protein structure. The discrimination improves if, in addition to the internal energy, the free energy expression includes the electrostatic energy, calculated by assuming nonionized side chains, and an empirical solvation term, with the classical atomic solvation parameter model providing slightly better discrimination than a structure-based atomic contact potential. Finally, the inclusion of a term representing the side chain entropy change, and calculated by an established empirical scale, is so inaccurate that it makes the discrimination worse. It is shown that both the correlation coefficient and the MDS value (or its dimensionless form) are needed for an objective assessment of a potential, and that together they provide much more information on the origins of discrimination than simple inspection of the RMSD-free energy plots. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-534
Number of pages17
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2000


  • Free energy function
  • Implicit solvation
  • Molecular mechanics
  • Protein structure determination
  • Structure-based potential

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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