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Calculations of electrostatic interactions in biological systems and in solutions

  • Arieh Warshel (a1) and Stephen T. Russell (a1)

Correlating the structure and action of biological molecules requires knowledge of the corresponding relation between structure and energy. Probably the most important factors in such a structure– energy correlation are associated with electrostatic interactions. Thus the key requirement for quantative understanding of the action of biological molecules is the ability to correlate electrostatic interactions with structural information. To appreciate this point it is useful to compare the electrostatic energy of a charged amino acid in a polar solvent to the corresponding van der Waals energy. The electrostatic free energy, ΔGel, can be approximated (as will be shown in Section II) by the Born formula (ΔGel = –(166Q2/ā) (I – I/E)). Where ΔGel is given in kcal/mol, Qis the charge of the given group, in units of electron charge, āis the effective radius of the group, and E is the dielectric constant of the solvent. With an effective radius of charged amino acids of approximately 2 Å, Born's formula gives about – 80 kcal/mol for their energy in polar solvents where E is larger than 10. This energy is two orders of magnitude larger than the van der Waals interaction of such groups and their surroundings.

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