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Benchmarking Force Field and the ANI Neural Network Potentials for the Torsional Potential Energy Surface of Biaryl Drug Fragments

submitted on 07.08.2020 and posted on 10.08.2020 by Shae-Lynn Lahey, Từ Nguyễn Thiên Phúc, Christopher Rowley
Many drug molecules contain biaryl fragments, resulting in a torsional barrier corresponding to rotation around the bond linking the aryls. The potential energy surfaces of these torsions vary significantly due to steric and electronic effects, ultimately affecting the relative stability of the molecular conformations in the protein-bound and solution states. Simulations of protein--ligand binding require accurate computational models to represent the intramolecular interactions to provide accurate predictions of the structure and dynamics of binding. In this paper, we compare four force fields (Generalized AMBER Force Field (GAFF), Open Force Field (OpenFF), CHARMM General Force Field (CGenFF), Optimized Potentials for Liquid Simulations (OPLS)) and two neural network potentials (ANI-2x, ANI-1ccx) in their ability to predict the torsional potential energy surfaces of 88 biaryls extracted from drug fragments. The mean of the absolute deviation over the full PES (MADF) and the mean absolute deviation of the torsion rotational barrier height (MADB) relative to high-level ab initio reference data was used as a measure of accuracy. In comparison to high-level ab-initio data, ANI-1ccx was most accurate for predicting the barrier height (MADF: 0.5~kcal/mol, MADB:~0.8~kcal/mol), followed closely by ANI-2x (MADF: 0.5~kcal/mol, MADB:~1.0~kcal/mol), then CGenFF (MADF: 0.8~kcal/mol, MADB: 1.3~kcal/mol), OpenFF (MADF: 1.5~kcal/mol, MADB: 1.4~kcal/mol), GAFF (MADF: 1.2~kcal/mol, MADB: 2.6~kcal/mol), and finally OPLS (MADF: 1.5~kcal/mol, MADB: 2.8~kcal/mol). Significantly, the NNPs are systematically more accurate and more reliable than any of the force fields. As a practical example, the neural network potential/molecular mechanics (NNP/MM) method was used to simulate the isomerization of ozanimod, a drug used for multiple sclerosis. Multi-nanosecond molecular dynamics (MD) simulations in an explicit aqueous solvent were performed, as well as umbrella sampling and adaptive biasing force enhanced sampling techniques. These theories predicted a rate of isomerization of $4.30 \times 10^{-1}$ ns$^{-1}$, which is consistent with direct MD simulations.


NSERC of Canada


Email Address of Submitting Author


Memorial University of Newfoundland



ORCID For Submitting Author


Declaration of Conflict of Interest

no conflict of interest

Version Notes

original submission


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