Protein folding kinetics and thermodynamics from atomistic simulation
Advances in simulation techniques and computing hardware have created a substantial overlap between the timescales accessible to atomic-level simulations and those on which the fastest-folding proteins fold. Here we demonstrate, using simulations of four variants of the human villin headpiece, how simulations of spontaneous folding and unfolding can provide direct access to thermodynamic and kinetic quantities such as folding rates, free energies, folding enthalpies, heat capacities, Φ-values, and temperature-jump relaxation profiles. The quantitative comparison of simulation results with various forms of experimental data probing different aspects of the folding process can facilitate robust assessment of the accuracy of the calculations while providing a detailed structural interpretation for the experimental observations. In the example studied here, the analysis of folding rates, Φ-values, and folding pathways provides support for the notion that a norleucine double mutant of villin folds five times faster than the wild-type sequence, but following a slightly different pathway. This work showcases how computer simulation has now developed into a mature tool for the quantitative computational study of protein folding and dynamics that can provide a valuable complement to experimental techniques.