Calculation of salt-dependent free energy of binding of β-lactoglobulin homodimer formation and mechanism of dimer formation using molecular dynamics simulation and three-dimensional reference interaction site model (3D-RISM): diffuse salt ions and non-polar interactions between the monomers favor the dimer formation†
There are several important phenomena in chemistry, biology, and physics where molecules (or parts of a molecule) having charges of the same sign come closer together and become stable. DNA condensation, RNA folding, colloid-colloid interactions are some of the examples of this kind. In the current work, we have investigated how β-lactoglobulin, a protein found in milk, in spite of carrying +13 charge, favors the homodimer formation in the presence of salt. We have focussed on calculating the protein–protein binding free energy in the presence of salt and identifying the thermodynamic and microscopic mechanism of the process. Estimation of binding free energy of this salt-dependent process is done by combining molecular dynamics simulation with statistical mechanical theory of three-dimensional reference interaction site model (3D-RISM). Binding free energy is evaluated from the chemical potential of the solutes as opposed to potential of mean force calculation, which gives only a constrained free energy. Our calculated values semi-quantitatively match with the experimental results. By examining the different components of binding free energy, we have found that the role of salt ions (especially of Cl−) is to shift the equilibrium towards the dimer. Non-polar (Lennard-Jones) interactions between the monomers is also favorable to the binding free energy. However, water slightly disfavors the dimer formation. For the microscopic mechanism, heterogeneous of both Na+ and Cl− near the charged residues at the binding interface and change of this charge distribution on dimer formation contribute to the stability. A fine-tuning of enthalpic and entropic effects of salt ions is found to operate at different salt concentrations. Both thermodynamic and microscopic mechanism of dimer formation gives detailed insight into the complex electrostatics of charged protein–protein binding.