Simulation of the diffusional association of barnase and barstar. The rate of protein association places an upper limit on the response time due to protein interactions, which, under certain circumstances, can be diffusion-controlled. Simulations of model proteins show that diffusion-limited association rates are approximately 10(6)-10(7) M-1 s-1 in the absence of long-range forces (Northrup, S. H., and H. P. Erickson. 1992. Kinetics of protein-protein association explained by Brownian dynamics computer simulations. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 89:3338–3342). The measured association rates of barnase and barstar are 10(8)-10(9) M-1 s-1 at 50 mM ionic strength, and depend on ionic strength (Schreiber, G., and A. R. Fersht. 1996. Rapid, electrostatically assisted association of proteins. Nat. Struct. Biol. 3:427–431), implying that their association is electrostatically facilitated. We report Brownian dynamics simulations of the diffusional association of barnase and barstar to compute association rates and their dependence on ionic strength and protein mutation. Crucial to the ability to reproduce experimental rates is the definition of encounter complex formation at the endpoint of diffusional motion. Simple definitions, such as a required root mean square (RMS) distance to the fully bound position, fail to explain the large influence of some mutations on association rates. Good agreement with experiments could be obtained if satisfaction of two intermolecular residue contacts was required for encounter complex formation. In the encounter complexes, barstar tends to be shifted from its position in the bound complex toward the guanine-binding loop on barnase.

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