Absolute hydration free energies of blocked amino acids: Implications for protein solvation and stability

Gerhard König*, Stefan Bruckner, Stefan Boresch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most proteins perform their function in aqueous solution. The interactions with water determine the stability of proteins and the desolvation costs of ligand binding or membrane insertion. However, because of experimental restrictions, absolute solvation free energies of proteins or amino acids are not available. Instead, solvation free energies are estimated based on side chain analog data. This approach implies that the contributions to free energy differences are additive, and it has often been employed for estimating folding or binding free energies. However, it is not clear how much the additivity assumption affects the reliability of the resulting data. Here, we use molecular dynamics-based free energy simulations to calculate absolute hydration free energies for 15 N-acetyl-methylamide amino acids with neutral side chains. By comparing our results with solvation free energies for side chain analogs, we demonstrate that estimates of solvation free energies of full amino acids based on group-additive methods are systematically too negative and completely overestimate the hydrophobicity of glycine. The largest deviation of additive protocols using side chain analog data was 6.7 kcal/mol; on average, the deviation was 4 kcal/mol. We briefly discuss a simple way to alleviate the errors incurred by using side chain analog data and point out the implications of our findings for the field of biophysics and implicit solvent models. To support our results and conclusions, we calculate relative protein stabilities for selected point mutations, yielding a root-mean-square deviation from experimental results of 0.8 kcal/mol.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-462
Number of pages10
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2013


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