Refining All-Atom Protein Force Fields for Polar-Rich, Prion-like, Low-Complexity Intrinsically Disordered Proteins. Academic Article uri icon


  • Significant efforts in the past decade have given us highly accurate all-atom protein force fields for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of folded and disordered proteins. These simulations, complemented with experimental data, provide new insights into molecular interactions that underlie the physical properties of proteins, especially for intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) for which defining the heterogeneous structural ensemble is hugely challenging by experiments alone. Consequently, the accuracy of these protein force fields is of utmost importance to ensure reliable simulated conformational data. Here, we first assess the accuracy of current state-of-the-art force fields for IDPs (ff99SBws and ff03ws) applied to disordered proteins of low amino acid sequence complexity that can undergo liquid-liquid phase separation. On the basis of a detailed comparison of NMR chemical shifts between simulation and experiment on several IDPs, we find that regions surrounding specific polar residues result in simulated ensembles with exaggerated helicity when compared to experiment. To resolve this discrepancy, we introduce residue-specific modifications to the backbone torsion potential of three residues (Ser, Thr, and Gln) in the ff99SBws force field. The modified force field, ff99SBws-STQ, provides a more accurate representation of helical structure propensity in these LC domains without compromising faithful representation of helicity in a region with distinct sequence composition. Our refinement strategy also suggests a path forward for integrating experimental data in the assessment of residue-specific deficiencies in the current physics-based force fields and improves these force fields further for their broader applicability.

published proceedings

  • J Phys Chem B

altmetric score

  • 4

author list (cited authors)

  • Tang, W. S., Fawzi, N. L., & Mittal, J.

citation count

  • 14

complete list of authors

  • Tang, Wai Shing||Fawzi, Nicolas L||Mittal, Jeetain

publication date

  • October 2020