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Collagen-silk-collagen triblock polypeptides can self-assemble at low pH into nanometer thin fibers with a length in the order of micrometers. Previously we predicted, via all-atom simulations, the structure of the folded silk domain to be a β-roll. In this work we develop a simple coarse-grained model of the silk domain to enable a numerical study of the fiber's properties and formation on a larger length and time scale. As an initial coarse-grained model for the fiber forming protein we chose the model of Brown et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 2003, 100, 10712–10717. We adapted this model, and optimized its parameters to reproduce the all-atom molecular dynamics simulation structural data. The unknown strength of the attraction between the beads representing the residues is optimized by computing the Potential of Mean Force for unfolding a strand of the β-roll, using non-equilibrium steered MD simulations in combination with the Jarzynski relation. Using these optimized parameters we observed spontaneous folding of a short peptide. The coarse-grained β-roll, as well as a much larger stack (a fiber) of β-rolls, were found to be stable. Moreover, the predicted fiber persistence length is in agreement with experiment. The efficacy of the mapping of a coarse-grained system onto an all-atom simulation is discussed. The approach opens the way for large-scale simulations of fibers, based on molecular structure, and allows investigation of their nucleation, growth, cross-linking mechanism, network dynamics, and rheology.
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