Factors affecting the interactions between beta-lactoglobulin and fatty acids as revealed in molecular dynamics simulations
Beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), a bovine dairy protein, is a promiscuously interacting protein that can bind multiple hydrophobic ligands. Fatty acids (FAs), common hydrophobic molecules bound to BLG, are important sources of fuel for life because they yield large quantities of ATP when metabolized. The binding affinity increases with the length of the ligands, indicating the importance of the van der Waals (vdW) interactions between the hydrocarbon tail and the hydrophobic calyx of BLG. An exception to this rule is caprylic acid (OCA) which is two-carbon shorter but has a stronger binding affinity than capric acid. Theoretical calculations in the current literature are not accurate enough to shed light on the underlying physics of this exception. The computed affinity values are greater for longer fatty acids without respect for the caprylic exception and those values are generally several orders of magnitude away from the experimental data. In this work, we used hybrid steered molecular dynamics to accurately compute the binding free energies between BLG and the five saturated FAs of 8 to 16 carbon atoms. The computed binding free energies agree well with experimental data not only in rank but also in absolute values. We gained insights into the exceptional behavior of caprylic acid in the computed values of entropy and electrostatic interactions. We found that the electrostatic interaction between the carboxyl group of caprylic acid and the two amino groups of K60/69 in BLG is much stronger than the vdW force between the OCA's hydrophobic tail and the BLG calyx. This pulls OCA to the top of the beta barrel where it is easier to fluctuate, giving rise to greater entropy of OCA at the binding site.