Recent advances in experimental and computational methods have made it possible to determine with considerable accuracy the structures whose formation is rate limiting for the folding of some small proteins - the transition state ensemble, or TSE. We present a method to analyze and validate all-atom models of such structures. The method is based on the comparison of experimental data with the computation of the change in free energy of the TSE resulting from specific mutations. Each mutation is modeled individually in all members of an ensemble of transition state structures using a method originally developed to predict mutational changes in the stability of native proteins. We first apply this method to six proteins for which we have determined the TSEs with a technique that uses experimental mutational data (Φ-values) as restraints in the structure determination and find a highly significant correlation between the calculated free energy changes and those derived from experimental kinetic data. We then use the procedure to analyze transition state structures determined by molecular dynamics simulations of unfolding, again finding a high correlation. Finally, we use the method to estimate changes in folding rates of several hydrophobic core mutants of Fyn SH3. Taken together, these results show that the procedure developed here is a tool of general validity for analyzing, assessing, and improving the quality of the structures of transition states for protein folding.
Lindorff-Larsen, K., Paci, E., Serrano, L., Dobson, C. M., & Vendruscolo, M. (2003). Calculation of mutational free energy changes in transition states for protein folding. Biophysical Journal, 85(2), 1207–1214. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3495(03)74556-1