We report the computer generation of a high-density map of the thermodynamic properties of the diffusion-accessible encounter conformations of four receptor-ligand protein pairs, and use it to study the electrostatic and desolvation components of the free energy of association. Encounter complex conformations are generated by sampling the translational/rotational space of the ligand around the receptor, both at 5-Å and zero surface-to- surface separations. We find that partial desolvation is always an important effect, and it becomes dominant for complexes in which one of the reactants is neutral or weakly charged. The interaction provides a slowly varying attractive force over a small but significant region of the molecular surface. In complexes with no strong charge complementarity this region surrounds the binding site, and the orientation of the ligand in the encounter conformation with the lowest desolvation free energy is similar to the one observed in the fully formed complex. Complexes with strong opposite charges exhibit two types of behavior. In the first group, represented by barnase/barstar, electrostatics exerts strong orientational steering toward the binding site, and desolvation provides some added adhesion within the local region of low electrostatic energy. In the second group, represented by the complex of kallikrein and pancreatic trypsin inhibitor, the overall stability results from the rather nonspecific electrostatic attraction, whereas the affinity toward the binding region is determined by desolvation interactions.
Camacho, C. J., Weng, Z., Vajda, S., & DeLisi, C. (1999). Free energy landscapes of encounter complexes in protein-protein association. Biophysical Journal, 76(3), 1166–1178. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3495(99)77281-4