Multipole-Based Force Fields from ab Initio Interaction Energies and the Need for Jointly Refitting All Intermolecular Parameters
Distributed atomic multipole (MTP) moments promise significant improvements over point charges (PCs) in molecular force fields, as they (a) more realistically reproduce the ab initio electrostatic potential (ESP) and (b) allow to capture anisotropic atomic properties such as lone pairs, conjugated systems, and σ holes. The present work focuses on the question of whether multipolar electrostatics instead of PCs in standard force fields leads to quantitative improvements over point charges in reproducing intermolecular interactions. To this end, the interaction energies of two model systems, benzonitrile (BZN) and formamide (FAM) homodimers, are characterized over a wide range of dimer conformations. It is found that although with MTPs the monomer ab initio ESP can be captured better by about an order of magnitude compared to point charges (PCs), this does not directly translate into better describing ab initio interaction energies compared to PCs. Neither ESP-fitted MTPs nor refitted Lennard-Jones (LJ) parameters alone demonstrate a clear superiority of atomic MTPs. We show that only if both electrostatic and LJ parameters are jointly optimized in standard, nonpolarizable force fields, atomic are MTPs clearly beneficial for reproducing ab initio dimerization energies. After an exhaustive exponent scan, we find that for both BZN and FAM, atomic MTPs and a 9?6 LJ potential can reproduce ab initio interaction energies with ?30% (RMSD 0.13 vs 0.18 kcal/mol) less error than point charges (PCs) and a 12?6 LJ potential. We also find that the improvement due to using MTPs with a 9?6 LJ potential is considerably more pronounced than with a 12?6 LJ potential (≈ 10%; RMSD 0.19 versus 0.21 kcal/mol).