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Elastic Network Models Are Robust to Variations in Formalism

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journal contribution
posted on 10.07.2012, 00:00 by Nicholas Leioatts, Tod D. Romo, Alan Grossfield
Understanding the functions of biomolecules requires insight not only from structures but from dynamics as well. Often, the most interesting processes occur on time scales too slow for exploration by conventional molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. For this reason, alternative computational methods such as elastic network models (ENMs) have become increasingly popular. These simple, coarse-grained models represent molecules as beads connected by harmonic springs; the system’s motions are solved analytically by normal-mode analysis. In the past few years, many different formalisms for performing ENM calculations have emerged, and several have been optimized using all-atom MD simulations. In contrast to other studies, we have compared the various formalisms in a systematic, quantitative way. In this study, we optimize many ENM functional forms using a uniform data set containing only long (>1 μs) all-atom MD simulations. Our results show that all models once optimized produce spring constants for immediate neighboring residues that are orders of magnitude stiffer than more distal contacts. In addition, the statistical significance of ENM performance varied with model resolution. We also show that fitting long trajectories does not improve ENM performance due to a problem inherent in all network models tested: they underestimate the relative importance of the most concerted motions. Finally, we characterize ENMs’ resilience by tessellating the parameter space to show that broad ranges of parameters produce similar quality predictions. Taken together, our data reveal that the choice of spring function and parameters are not vital to the performance of a network model and that simple parameters can by derived “by hand” when no data are available for fitting, thus illustrating the robustness of these models.