The aggregation of human amylin has been strongly implicated in the progression of Type II diabetes. This 37-residue peptide forms a variety of secondary structures, including random coils, α-helices, and β-hairpins. The balance between these structures depends on the chemical environment, making amylin an ideal candidate to examine inherent biases in force fields. Rat amylin differs from human amylin by only 6 residues; however, it does not form fibrils. Therefore it provides a useful complement to human amylin in studies of the key events along the aggregation pathway. In this work, the free energy of rat and human amylin was determined as a function of α-helix and β-hairpin content for the Gromos96 53a6, OPLS-AA/L, CHARMM22/CMAP, CHARMM22∗, Amberff99sb∗-ILDN, and Amberff03w force fields using advanced sampling techniques, specifically bias exchange metadynamics. This work represents a first systematic attempt to evaluate the conformations and the corresponding free energy of a large, clinically relevant disordered peptide in solution across force fields. The NMR chemical shifts of rIAPP were calculated for each of the force fields using their respective free energy maps, allowing us to quantitatively assess their predictions. We show that the predicted distribution of secondary structures is sensitive to the choice of force-field: Gromos53a6 is biased towards β-hairpins, while CHARMM22/CMAP predicts structures that are overly α-helical. OPLS-AA/L favors disordered structures. Amberff99sb∗-ILDN, AmberFF03w and CHARMM22∗ provide the balance between secondary structures that is most consistent with available experimental data. In contrast to previous reports, our findings suggest that the equilibrium conformations of human and rat amylin are remarkably similar, but that subtle differences arise in transient alpha-helical and beta-strand containing structures that the human peptide can more readily adopt. We hypothesize that these transient states enable dynamic pathways that facilitate the formation of aggregates and, eventually, amyloid fibrils.
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© 2015 Hoffmann et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.