Size-and-Shape Space Gaussian Mixture Models for Structural Clustering of Molecular Dynamics Trajectories

Heidi Klem, Glen M. Hocky, Martin McCullagh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Determining the optimal number and identity of structural clusters from an ensemble of molecular configurations continues to be a challenge. Recent structural clustering methods have focused on the use of internal coordinates due to the innate rotational and translational invariance of these features. The vast number of possible internal coordinates necessitates a feature space supervision step to make clustering tractable but yields a protocol that can be system type-specific. Particle positions offer an appealing alternative to internal coordinates but suffer from a lack of rotational and translational invariance, as well as a perceived insensitivity to regions of structural dissimilarity. Here, we present a method, denoted shape-GMM, that overcomes the shortcomings of particle positions using a weighted maximum likelihood alignment procedure. This alignment strategy is then built into an expectation maximization Gaussian mixture model (GMM) procedure to capture metastable states in the free-energy landscape. The resulting algorithm distinguishes between a variety of different structures, including those indistinguishable by root-mean-square displacement and pairwise distances, as demonstrated on several model systems. Shape-GMM results on an extensive simulation of the fast-folding HP35 Nle/Nle mutant protein support a four-state folding/unfolding mechanism, which is consistent with previous experimental results and provides kinetic details comparable to previous state-of-the art clustering approaches, as measured by the VAMP-2 score. Currently, training of shape-GMMs is recommended for systems (or subsystems) that can be represented by ≲200 particles and ≲100k configurations to estimate high-dimensional covariance matrices and balance computational expense. Once a shape-GMM is trained, it can be used to predict the cluster identities of millions of configurations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of chemical theory and computation
Issue number5
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Algorithms
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Normal Distribution
  • Protein Folding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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