Rhodopsin Absorption from First Principles: Bypassing Common Pitfalls
Bovine rhodopsin is the most extensively studied retinal protein and is considered the prototype of this important class of photosensitive biosystems involved in the process of vision. Many theoretical investigations have attempted to elucidate the role of the protein matrix in modulating the absorption of retinal chromophore in rhodopsin, but, while generally agreeing in predicting the correct location of the absorption maximum, they often reached contradicting conclusions on how the environment tunes the spectrum. To address this controversial issue, we combine here a thorough structural and dynamical characterization of rhodopsin with a careful validation of its excited-state properties via the use of a wide range of state-of-the-art quantum chemical approaches including various flavors of time-dependent density functional theory (TDDFT), different multireference perturbative schemes (CASPT2 and NEVPT2), and quantum Monte Carlo (QMC) methods. Through extensive quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) molecular dynamics simulations, we obtain a comprehensive structural description of the chromophoreprotein system and sample a wide range of thermally accessible configurations. We show that, in order to obtain reliable excitation properties, it is crucial to employ a sufficient number of representative configurations of the system. In fact, the common use of a single, ad hoc structure can easily lead to an incorrect model and an agreement with experimental absorption spectra due to cancelation of errors. Finally, we show that, to properly account for polarization effects on the chromophore and to quench the large blue-shift induced by the counterion on the excitation energies, it is necessary to adopt an enhanced description of the protein environment as given by a large quantum region including as many as 250 atoms.