Quantitative assessment of force fields on both low-energy conformational basins and transition-state regions of the (ø-ψ) space

Zhiwei Liu, Bernd Ensing, Preston B. Moore

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10 Scopus citations


The free energy surfaces (FESs) of alanine dipeptide are studied to illustrate a new strategy to assess the performance of classical molecular mechanics force field on the full range of the (φ-ψ) conformational space. The FES is obtained from metadynamics simulations with five commonly used force fields and from ab initio density functional theory calculations in both gas phase and aqueous solution. The FESs obtained at the B3LYP/6-311+G(2d,p)// B3LYP/6-31G(d,p) level of theory are validated by comparison with previously reported MP2 and LMP2 results as well as with experimentally obtained probability distribution between the C5-β (or β-PPII) and αR states. A quantitative assessment is made for each force field in three conformational basins, LeRI (C5-β-C7 eq), LeRII (β2R), and LeRIII(αL-C7axD) as well as three transition-state regions linking the above conformational basins. The performance of each force field is evaluated in terms of the average free energy of each region in comparison with that of the ab initio results. We quantify how well a force field FES matches the ab initio FES through the calculation of the standard deviation of a free energy difference map between the two FESs. The results indicate that the performance varies largely from region to region or from force field to force field. Although not one force field is able to outperform all others in all conformational areas, the OPLSAA/L force field gives the best performance overall, followed by OPLSAA and AMBER03. For the three top performers, the average free energies differ from the corresponding ab initio values from within the error range (<0.4 kcal/mol) to ∼1.5 kcal/mol for the low-energy regions and up to ∼2.0 kcal/mol for the transition-state regions. The strategy presented and the results obtained here should be useful for improving the parametrization of force fields targeting both accuracy in the energies of conformers and the transition-state barriers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)402-419
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Chemical Theory and Computation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 8 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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