To aid the evaluation of protein-protein complex model structures generated by protein docking prediction (decoys), we previously developed a method to calculate the binding free energies for complexes. The method combines a short (2 ns) all-atom molecular dynamics simulation with explicit solvent and solution theory in the energy representation (ER). We showed that this method successfully selected structures similar to the native complex structure (near-native decoys) as the lowest binding free energy structures. In our current work, we applied this method (evERdock) to 100 or 300 model structures of four protein-protein complexes. The crystal structures and the near-native decoys showed the lowest binding free energy of all the examined structures, indicating that evERdock can successfully evaluate decoys. Several decoys that show low interface root-mean-square distance but relatively high binding free energy were also identified. Analysis of the fraction of native contacts, hydrogen bonds, and salt bridges at the protein-protein interface indicated that these decoys were insufficiently optimized at the interface. After optimizing the interactions around the interface by including interfacial water molecules, the binding free energies of these decoys were improved. We also investigated the effect of solute entropy on binding free energy and found that consideration of the entropy term does not necessarily improve the evaluations of decoys using the normal model analysis for entropy calculation.

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