Journal article

Mapping the conformational free energy of aspartic acid in the gas phase and in aqueous solution

The conformational free energy landscape of aspartic acid, a proteogenic amino acid involved in a wide variety of biological functions, was investigated as an example of the complexity that multiple rotatable bonds produce even in relatively simple molecules. To efficiently explore such a landscape, this molecule was studied in the neutral and zwitterionic forms, in the gas phase and in water solution, by means of molecular dynamics and the enhanced sampling method metadynamics with classical force-fields. Multi-dimensional free energy landscapes were reduced to bi-dimensional maps through the non-linear dimensionality reduction algorithm sketch-map to identify the energetically stable conformers and their interconnection paths. Quantum chemical calculations were then performed on the minimum free energy structures. Our procedure returned the low energy conformations observed experimentally in the gas phase with rotational spectroscopy [M. E. Sanz et al., Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 12, 3573 (2010)]. Moreover, it provided information on higher energy conformers not accessible to experiments and on the conformers in water. The comparison between different force-fields and quantum chemical data highlighted the importance of the underlying potential energy surface to accurately capture energy rankings. The combination of force-field based metadynamics, sketch-map analysis, and quantum chemical calculations was able to produce an exhaustive conformational exploration in a range of significant free energies that complements the experimental data. Similar protocols can be applied to larger peptides with complex conformational landscapes and would greatly benefit from the next generation of accurate force-fields. (C) 2017 Author(s). All article content, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

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