Protein folding pathways and state transitions described by classical equations of motion of an elastic network model
Protein topology defined by the matrix of residue contacts has proved to be a fruitful basis for the study of protein dynamics. The widely implemented coarse-grained elastic network model of backbone fluctuations has been used to describe crystallographic temperature factors, allosteric couplings, and some aspects of the folding pathway. In the present study, we develop a model of protein dynamics based on the classical equations of motion of a damped network model (DNM) that describes the folding path from a completely unfolded state to the native conformation through a single-well potential derived purely from the native conformation. The kinetic energy gained through the collapse of the protein chain is dissipated through a friction term in the equations of motion that models the water bath. This approach is completely general and sufficiently fast that it can be applied to large proteins. Folding pathways for various proteins of different classes are described and shown to correlate with experimental observations and molecular dynamics and Monte Carlo simulations. Allosteric transitions between alternative protein structures are also modeled within the DNM through an asymmetric double-well potential.