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J Comput Chem. 2009 Nov 15;30(14):2231-47. doi: 10.1002/jcc.21222.

MCCE2: improving protein pKa calculations with extensive side chain rotamer sampling.

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Department of Physics, J-419 City College of New York, 138th Street, Convent Avenue, New York, New York 10031, USA.


Multiconformation continuum electrostatics (MCCE) explores different conformational degrees of freedom in Monte Carlo calculations of protein residue and ligand pK(a)s. Explicit changes in side chain conformations throughout a titration create a position dependent, heterogeneous dielectric response giving a more accurate picture of coupled ionization and position changes. The MCCE2 methods for choosing a group of input heavy atom and proton positions are described. The pK(a)s calculated with different isosteric conformers, heavy atom rotamers and proton positions, with different degrees of optimization are tested against a curated group of 305 experimental pK(a)s in 33 proteins. QUICK calculations, with rotation around Asn and Gln termini, sampling His tautomers and torsion minimum hydroxyls yield an RMSD of 1.34 with 84% of the errors being <1.5 pH units. FULL calculations adding heavy atom rotamers and side chain optimization yield an RMSD of 0.90 with 90% of the errors <1.5 pH unit. Good results are also found for pK(a)s in the membrane protein bacteriorhodopsin. The inclusion of extra side chain positions distorts the dielectric boundary and also biases the calculated pK(a)s by creating more neutral than ionized conformers. Methods for correcting these errors are introduced. Calculations are compared with multiple X-ray and NMR derived structures in 36 soluble proteins. Calculations with X-ray structures give significantly better pK(a)s. Results with the default protein dielectric constant of 4 are as good as those using a value of 8. The MCCE2 program can be downloaded from

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