The distributed computing (DC) paradigm in conjunction with the folding@home (FH) client server has been used to study the folding kinetics of small peptides and proteins, giving excellent agreement with experimentally measured folding rates, although pathways sampled in these simulations are not always consistent with the folding mechanism. In this study, we use a coarse-grain model of protein L, whose two-state kinetics have been characterized in detail by using long-time equilibrium simulations, to rigorously test a FH protocol using approximately 10,000 short-time, uncoupled folding simulations starting from an extended state of the protein. We show that the FH results give non-Poisson distributions and early folding events that are unphysical, whereas longer folding events experience a correct barrier to folding but are not representative of the equilibrium folding ensemble. Using short-time, uncoupled folding simulations started from an equilibrated denatured state ensemble (DSE), we also do not get agreement with the equilibrium two-state kinetics because of overrepresented folding events arising from higher energy subpopulations in the DSE. The DC approach using uncoupled short trajectories can make contact with traditionally measured experimental rates and folding mechanism when starting from an equilibrated DSE, when the simulation time is long enough to sample the lowest energy states of the unfolded basin and the simulated free-energy surface is correct. However, the DC paradigm, together with faster time-resolved and single-molecule experiments, can also reveal the breakdown in the two-state approximation due to observation of folding events from higher energy subpopulations in the DSE.
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