The Amber ff99 Force Field Predicts Relative Free Energy Changes for RNA Helix Formation

Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics and Center for RNA Biology, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York.
Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation (Impact Factor: 5.5). 07/2012; 8(7):2497-2505. DOI: 10.1021/ct300240k
Source: PubMed


The ability of the Amber ff99 force field to predict relative free energies of RNA helix formation was investigated. The test systems were three hexaloop RNA hairpins with identical loops and varying stems. The potential of mean force of stretching the hairpins from the native state to an extended conformation was calculated with umbrella sampling. Because the hairpins have identical loop sequence, the differences in free energy changes are only from the stem composition. The Amber ff99 force field was able to correctly predict the order of stabilities of the hairpins, although the magnitude of the free energy change is larger than that determined by optical melting experiments. The two measurements cannot be compared directly because the unfolded state in the optical melting experiments is a random coil, while the end state in the umbrella sampling simulations was an elongated chain. The calculations can be compared to reference data by using a thermodynamic cycle. By applying the thermodynamic cycle to the transitions between the hairpins using simulations and nearest neighbor data, agreement was found to be within the sampling error of simulations, thus demonstrating that ff99 force field is able to accurately predict relative free energies of RNA helix formation.

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