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PLoS One. 2010 Sep 29;5(9). pii: e13068. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013068.

An improved strategy for generating forces in steered molecular dynamics: the mechanical unfolding of titin, e2lip3 and ubiquitin.

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Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.


One of the applications of Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations is to explore the energetic barriers to mechanical unfolding of proteins such as occurs in response to the mechanical pulling of single molecules in Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) experiments. Although Steered Molecular Dynamics simulations have provided microscopic details of the unfolding process during the pulling, the simulated forces required for unfolding are typically far in excess of the measured values. To rectify this, we have developed the Pulsed Unconstrained Fluctuating Forces (PUFF) method, which induces constant-momentum motions by applying forces directly to the instantaneous velocity of selected atoms in a protein system. The driving forces are applied in pulses, which allows the system to relax between pulses, resulting in more accurate unfolding force estimations than in previous methods. In the cases of titin, ubiquitin and e2lip3, the PUFF trajectories produce force fluctuations that agree quantitatively with AFM experiments. Another useful property of PUFF is that simulations get trapped if the target momentum is too low, simplifying the discovery and analysis of unfolding intermediates.

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