A comparison of QM/MM simulations with and without the Drude oscillator model based on hydration free energies of simple solutes

Gerhard König*, Frank C. Pickard, Jing Huang, Walter Thiel, Alexander D. MacKerell, Bernard R. Brooks, Darrin M. York

*Corresponding author for this work

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Maintaining a proper balance between specific intermolecular interactions and non-specific solvent interactions is of critical importance in molecular simulations, especially when predicting binding affinities or reaction rates in the condensed phase. The most rigorous metric for characterizing solvent affinity are solvation free energies, which correspond to a transfer from the gas phase into solution. Due to the drastic change of the electrostatic environment during this process, it is also a stringent test of polarization response in the model. Here, we employ both the CHARMM fixed charge and polarizable force fields to predict hydration free energies of twelve simple solutes. The resulting classical ensembles are then reweighted to obtain QM/MM hydration free energies using a variety of QM methods, including MP2, Hartree-Fock, density functional methods (BLYP, B3LYP, M06-2X) and semi-empirical methods (OM2 and AM1). Our simulations test the compatibility of quantum-mechanical methods with molecular-mechanical water models and solute Lennard-Jones parameters. In all cases, the resulting QM/MM hydration free energies were inferior to purely classical results, with the QM/MM Drude force field predictions being only marginally better than the QM/MM fixed charge results. In addition, the QM/MM results for different quantum methods are highly divergent, with almost inverted trends for polarizable and fixed charge water models. While this does not necessarily imply deficiencies in the QM models themselves, it underscores the need to develop consistent and balanced QM/MM interactions. Both the QM and the MM component of a QM/MM simulation have to match, in order to avoid artifacts due to biased solute-solvent interactions. Finally, we discuss strategies to improve the convergence and efficiency of multi-scale free energy simulations by automatically adapting the molecular-mechanics force field to the target quantum method.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2695
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2018


  • Hydration free energy
  • Polarization
  • QM/MM


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