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ACES: Optimized Alchemically Enhanced Sampling

ACES: Optimized Alchemically Enhanced Sampling

Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation vol. 19  p. 472–487  DOI: 10.1021/acs.jctc.2c00697  Published: 2023-01-11 

Tai-Sung Lee
Hsu-Chun Tsai
Abir Ganguly
Darrin M. York


We present an alchemical enhanced sampling (ACES) method implemented in the GPU-accelerated AMBER free energy MD engine. The methods hinges on the creation of an “enhanced sampling state” by reducing or eliminating selected potential energy terms and interactions that lead to kinetic traps and conformational barriers while maintaining those terms that curtail the need to otherwise sample large volumes of phase space. For example, the enhanced sampling state might involve transforming regions of a ligand and/or protein side chain into a noninteracting “dummy state” with internal electrostatics and torsion angle terms turned off. The enhanced sampling state is connected to a real-state end point through a Hamiltonian replica exchange (HREMD) framework that is facilitated by newly developed alchemical transformation pathways and smoothstep softcore potentials. This creates a counterdiffusion of real and enhanced-sampling states along the HREMD network. The effect of a differential response of the environment to the real and enhanced-sampling states is minimized by leveraging the dual topology framework in AMBER to construct a counterbalancing HREMD network in the opposite alchemical direction with the same (or similar) real and enhanced sampling states at inverted end points. The method has been demonstrated in a series of test cases of increasing complexity where traditional MD, and in several cases alternative REST2-like enhanced sampling methods, are shown to fail. The hydration free energy for acetic acid was shown to be independent of the starting conformation, and the values for four additional edge case molecules from the FreeSolv database were shown to have a significantly closer agreement with experiment using ACES. The method was further able to handle different rotamer states in a Cdk2 ligand identified as fractionally occupied in crystal structures. Finally, ACES was applied to T4-lysozyme and demonstrated that the side chain distribution of V111χ1 could be reliably reproduced for the apo state, bound to p-xylene, and in p-xylene→ benzene transformations. In these cases, the ACES method is shown to be highly robust and superior to a REST2-like enhanced sampling implementation alone.