Validation of molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules using NMR spin relaxation as benchmarks: Application to the AMBER99SB force field

Scott A. Showalter, Rafael Brüschweiler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

183 Scopus citations


Biological function of biomolecules is accompanied by a wide range of motional behavior. Accurate modeling of dynamics by molecular dynamics (MD) computer simulations is therefore a useful approach toward the understanding of biomolecular function. NMR spin relaxation measurements provide rigorous benchmarks for assessing important aspects of MD simulations, such as the amount and time scales of conformational space sampling, which are intimately related to the underlying molecular mechanics force field. Until recently, most simulations produced trajectories that exhibited too much dynamics particularly in flexible loop regions. Recent modifications made to the backbone φ and Ψ torsion angle potentials of the AMBER and CHARMM force fields indicate that these changes produce more realistic molecular dynamics behavior. To assess the consequences of these changes, we performed a series of 5-20 ns molecular dynamics trajectories of human ubiquitin using the AMBER99 and AMBER99SB force fields for different conditions and water models and compare the results with NMR experimental backbone N-H S2 order parameters. A quantitative analysis of the trajectories shows significantly improved agreement with experimental NMR data for the AMBER99SB force field as compared to AMBER99. Because NMR spin relaxation data (Ti, T2, NOE) reflect the combined effects of spatial and temporal fluctuations of bond vectors, it is found that comparison of experimental and back-calculated NMR spin-relaxation data provides a more objective way of assessing the quality of the trajectory than order parameters alone. Analysis of a key mobile β-hairpin in ubiquitin demonstrates that the dynamics of mobile sites are not only reduced by the modified force field, but the extent of motional correlations between amino acids is also markedly diminished.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)961-975
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Chemical Theory and Computation
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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