Evaluating the Efficiency of the Martini Force Field to Study Protein Dimerization in Aqueous and Membrane Environments
Protein-protein complex assembly is one of the major drivers of biological response. Understanding the mechanisms of protein oligomerization/dimerization would allow one to elucidate how these complexes participate in biological activities and could ultimately lead to new approaches in designing novel therapeutic agents. However, determining the exact association pathways and structures of such complexes remains a challenge. Here, we use parallel tempering metadynamics simulations in the well-tempered ensemble to evaluate the performance of Martini 2.2P and Martini open-beta 3 (Martini 3) force fields in reproducing the structure and energetics of the dimerization process of membrane proteins and proteins in an aqueous solution in reasonable accuracy and throughput. We find that Martini 2.2P systematically overestimates the free energy of association by estimating large barriers in distinct areas, which likely leads to overaggregation when multiple monomers are present. In comparison, the less viscous Martini 3 results in a systematic underestimation of the free energy of association for proteins in solution, while it performs well in describing the association of membrane proteins. In all cases the near-native dimer complexes are identified as minima in the free energy surface albeit not always as the lowest minima. In the case of Martini 3 we find that the spurious supramolecular protein aggregation present in Martini 2.2P multimer simulations is alleviated and thus this force field may be more suitable for the study of protein oligomerization. We propose that the use of enhanced sampling simulations with a refined coarse-grained force field and appropriately defined collective variables is a robust approach for studying the protein dimerization process, although one should be cautious of the ranking of energy minima.