Department of Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.
Absolute binding free energy calculations and free energy decompositions are presented for the protein-protein complexes H-Ras/C-Raf1 and H-Ras/RalGDS. Ras is a central switch in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation. In our study, we investigate the capability of the molecular mechanics (MM)-generalized Born surface area (GBSA) approach to estimate absolute binding free energies for the protein-protein complexes. Averaging gas-phase energies, solvation free energies, and entropic contributions over snapshots extracted from trajectories of the unbound proteins and the complexes, calculated binding free energies (Ras-Raf: -15.0(+/-6.3)kcal mol(-1); Ras-RalGDS: -19.5(+/-5.9)kcal mol(-1)) are in fair agreement with experimentally determined values (-9.6 kcal mol(-1); -8.4 kcal mol(-1)), if appropriate ionic strength is taken into account. Structural determinants of the binding affinity of Ras-Raf and Ras-RalGDS are identified by means of free energy decomposition. For the first time, computationally inexpensive generalized Born (GB) calculations are applied in this context to partition solvation free energies along with gas-phase energies between residues of both binding partners. For selected residues, in addition, entropic contributions are estimated by classical statistical mechanics. Comparison of the decomposition results with experimentally determined binding free energy differences for alanine mutants of interface residues yielded correlations with r(2)=0.55 and 0.46 for Ras-Raf and Ras-RalGDS, respectively. Extension of the decomposition reveals residues as far apart as 25A from the binding epitope that can contribute significantly to binding free energy. These "hotspots" are found to show large atomic fluctuations in the unbound proteins, indicating that they reside in structurally less stable regions. Furthermore, hotspot residues experience a significantly larger-than-average decrease in local fluctuations upon complex formation. Finally, by calculating a pair-wise decomposition of interactions, interaction pathways originating in the binding epitope of Raf are found that protrude through the protein structure towards the loop L1. This explains the finding of a conformational change in this region upon complex formation with Ras, and it may trigger a larger structural change in Raf, which is considered to be necessary for activation of the effector by Ras.
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