Reconciling NMR Structures of the HIV-1 Nucleocapsid Protein (NCp7) using Extensive Polarizable Force Field Free-Energy Simulations

Using polarizable (AMOEBA) and non-polarizable (CHARMM) force fields, we compare the relative free-energy stability of two extreme conformations of the HIV-1 NCp7 nucleocapsid that had been previously experimentally advocated to prevail in solution. Using accelerated sampling techniques, we show that they differ in stability by no more than 0.75-1.9 kcal/mol depending on the reference protein sequence. While the extended form appears to be the most probable structure, both forms should thus coexist in water explaining the differing NMR findings.