Comprehensive evaluation of end-point free energy techniques in carboxylated-pillar[6]arene host–guest binding: I. Standard procedure

Xiao Liu, Lei Zheng, Chu Qin, John Z.H. Zhang, Zhaoxi Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the massive application of end-point free energy methods in protein–ligand and protein–protein interactions, computational understandings about their performance in relatively simple and prototypical host–guest systems are limited. In this work, we present a comprehensive benchmark calculation with standard end-point free energy techniques in a recent host–guest dataset containing 13 host–guest pairs involving the carboxylated-pillar[6]arene host. We first assess the charge schemes for solutes by comparing the charge-produced electrostatics with many ab initio references, in order to obtain a preliminary albeit detailed view of the charge quality. Then, we focus on four modelling details of end-point free energy calculations, including the docking procedure for the generation of initial condition, the charge scheme for host and guest molecules, the water model used in explicit-solvent sampling, and the end-point methods for free energy estimation. The binding thermodynamics obtained with different modelling schemes are compared with experimental references, and some practical guidelines on maximizing the performance of end-point methods in practical host–guest systems are summarized. Further, we compare our simulation outcome with predictions in the grand challenge and discuss further developments to improve the prediction quality of end-point free energy methods. Overall, unlike the widely acknowledged applicability in protein–ligand binding, the standard end-point calculations cannot produce useful outcomes in host–guest binding and thus are not recommended unless alterations are performed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)735-752
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Computer-Aided Molecular Design
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • End-point free energy methods
  • Force field
  • Host–guest binding
  • Molecular docking
  • Pillar[n]arenes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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