Developing and applying new theoretical and computational methods to study complex condensed phase systems

Gregory A. Voth

Gregory A. Voth
Haig P. Papazian Distinguished Service Professor
Department of Chemistry
Google Scholar Page

The research in the Voth Group involves theoretical and computer simulation studies of biomolecular, condensed phase, quantum mechanical, and materials systems. One of our goals is to develop new theory to describe such problems across multiple, connected length and time scales. Another related goal is to develop and apply new computational methods, tied to our multiscale theory, that can explain and predict complex phenomena occurring in these systems. Our methods are developed, for example, to probe protein-protein self-assembly, membrane-protein interactions, biomolecular and liquid state charge transport, complex liquids, self-assembly, and energy conversion materials. Our research is also often carried out in close collaboration with leading experimentalists from around the world. 

Material for Download

RAPTOR®  Charge Transport Simulation Software

A Modern Perspective on the Hydrated Excess Proton (aka "Hydronium") 

Multi-scale Coarse-graining (MS-CG) Force Matching (FM) code is now publicly available for download 

Research News

What Coordinate Best Describes the Affinity of the Hydrated Excess Proton for the Air–Water Interface?

Molecular dynamics simulations and free energy sampling are employed in this work to investigate the surface affinity of the hydrated excess proton with two definitions of the interface: The Gibbs dividing interface (GDI) and the Willard–Chandler interface (WCI). Both the multistate empirical valence bond (MS-EVB) reactive molecular dynamics method and the density functional theory-based ab initio molecular dynamics (AIMD) were used to describe the hydrated excess proton species, including “vehicular” (standard diffusion) transport and (Grotthuss) proton hopping transport and associated structures of the hydrated excess proton net positive charge defect. The excess proton is found to exhibit a similar trend and quantitative free energy behavior in terms of its surface affinity as a function of the GDI or WCI. Importantly, the definitions of the two interfaces in terms of the excess proton charge defect are highly correlated and far from independent of one another, thus undermining the argument that one interface is superior to the other when describing the proton interface affinity. Moreover, the hydrated excess proton and its solvation shell significantly influence the location and local curvature of the WCI, making it difficult to disentangle the interfacial thermodynamics of the excess proton from the influence of that species on the instantaneous surface curvature. 

Microtubule Simulations Provide Insight into the Molecular Mechanism Underlying Dynamic Instability 

The dynamic instability of microtubules (MTs), which refers to their ability to switch between polymerization and depolymerization states, is crucial for their function. It has been proposed that the growing MT ends are protected by a “GTP cap” that consists of GTP-bound tubulin dimers. When the speed of GTP hydrolysis is faster than dimer recruitment, the loss of this GTP cap will lead the MT to undergo rapid disassembly. However, the underlying atomistic mechanistic details of the dynamic instability remains unclear. In this study, we have performed long-time atomistic molecular dynamics simulations (1 μs for each system) for MT patches as well as a short segment of a closed MT in both GTP- and GDP-bound states. Our results confirmed that MTs in the GDP state generally have weaker lateral interactions between neighboring protofilaments (PFs) and less cooperative outward bending conformational change, where the difference between bending angles of neighboring PFs tends to be larger compared with GTP ones. As a result, when the GDP state tubulin dimer is exposed at the growing MT end, these factors will be more likely to cause the MT to undergo rapid disassembly. We also compared simulation results between the special MT seam region and the remaining material and found that the lateral interactions between MT PFs at the seam region were comparatively much weaker. This finding is consistent with the experimental suggestion that the seam region tends to separate during the disassembly process of an MT.


A Helical Assembly of Human ESCRT-I Scaffolds Reverse-Topology Membrane Scission

The ESCRT complexes drive membrane scission in HIV-1 release, autophagosome closure, multivesicular body biogenesis, cytokinesis, and other cell processes. ESCRT-I is the most upstream complex and bridges the system to HIV-1 Gag in virus release. The crystal structure of the headpiece of human ESCRT-I comprising TSG101–VPS28–VPS37B–MVB12A was determined, revealing an ESCRT-I helical assembly with a 12-molecule repeat. Electron microscopy confirmed that ESCRT-I subcomplexes form helical filaments in solution. Mutation of VPS28 helical interface residues blocks filament formation in vitro and autophagosome closure and HIV-1 release in human cells. Coarse-grained (CG) simulations of ESCRT assembly at HIV-1 budding sites suggest that the formation of a 12-membered ring of ESCRT-I molecules is a geometry-dependent checkpoint during late stages of Gag assembly and HIV-1 budding and templates ESCRT-III assembly for membrane scission. These data show that ESCRT-I is not merely a bridging adaptor; it has an essential scaffolding and mechanical role in its own right.

Water-Assisted Proton Transport in Confined Nanochannels

Hydrated excess protons under hydrophobic confinement are a critical component of charge transport behavior and reactivity in nanoporous materials and biomolecular systems. Herein, excess proton confinement effects are computationally investigated for sub-2 nm hydrophobic nanopores by varying the diameters (d = 0.81, 0.95, 1.09, 1.22, 1.36, 1.63, and 1.90 nm), lengths (l ∼3 and ∼5 nm), curvature, and chirality of cylindrical carbon nanotube (CNT) nanopores. CNTs with a combination of different diameter segments are also explored. The spatial distribution of water molecules under confinement is diameter-dependent; however, proton solvation and transport are consistently found to occur in the water layer adjacent to the pore wall, showing an “amphiphilic” character of the hydrated excess proton hydronium-like structure. The proton transport free energy barrier also decreases significantly as the nanopore diameter increases and proton transport becomes almost barrierless in the d > 1 nm nanopores. Among the nanopores studied, the Zundel cation (H5O2+) is populated only in the d = 0.95 nm CNT (7,7) nanopore. The presence of the hydrated excess proton and K+ inside the CNT (7,7) nanopore induces a water density increase by 40 and 20%, respectively. The K+ transport through CNT nanopores is also consistently higher in the free energy barrier than proton transport. Interestingly, the evolution of excess protonic charge defect distribution reveals a “frozen” single water wire configuration in the d = 0.81 nm CNT (6,6) nanopore (or segment), through which hydrated excess protons can only shuttle via the Grotthuss mechanism. Vehicular diffusion becomes relevant to proton transport in the “flat” free energy regions and in the wider nanopores, where protons do not primarily shuttle in the axial direction.

TRIM5α self-assembly and compartmentalization of the HIV-1 viral capsid

The tripartite-motif protein, TRIM5α, is an innate immune sensor that potently restricts retrovirus infection by binding to human immunodeficiency virus capsids. Higher-ordered oligomerization of this protein forms hexagonally patterned structures that wrap around the viral capsid, despite an anomalously low affinity for the capsid protein (CA). Several studies suggest TRIM5α oligomerizes into a lattice with a symmetry and spacing that matches the underlying capsid, to compensate for the weak affinity, yet little is known about how these lattices form. Using a combination of computational simulations and electron cryo-tomography imaging, we reveal the dynamical mechanisms by which these lattices self-assemble. Constrained diffusion allows the lattice to reorganize, whereas defects form on highly curved capsid surfaces to alleviate strain and lattice symmetry mismatches. Statistical analysis localizes the TRIM5α binding interface at or near the CypA binding loop of CA. These simulations elucidate the molecular-scale mechanisms of viral capsid cellular compartmentalization by TRIM5α.



Past Research Highlights 

Center for Multiscale Theory and SimulationThe James Franck InstituteInstitute for Biophysical DynamicsComputation Institute