An accurate potential function is essential to attack protein folding and structure prediction problems. The key to developing efficient knowledge-based potential functions is to design reference states that can appropriately counteract generic interactions. The reference states of many knowledge-based distance-dependent atomic potential functions were derived from non-interacting particles such as ideal gas, however, which ignored the inherent sequence connectivity and entropic elasticity of proteins.
We developed a new pair-wise distance-dependent, atomic statistical potential function (RW), using an ideal random-walk chain as reference state, which was optimized on CASP models and then benchmarked on nine structural decoy sets. Second, we incorporated a new side-chain orientation-dependent energy term into RW (RWplus) and found that the side-chain packing orientation specificity can further improve the decoy recognition ability of the statistical potential.
RW and RWplus demonstrate a significantly better ability than the best performing pair-wise distance-dependent atomic potential functions in both native and near-native model selections. It has higher energy-RMSD and energy-TM-score correlations compared with other potentials of the same type in real-life structure assembly decoys. When benchmarked with a comprehensive list of publicly available potentials, RW and RWplus shows comparable performance to the state-of-the-art scoring functions, including those combining terms from multiple resources. These data demonstrate the usefulness of random-walk chain as reference states which correctly account for sequence connectivity and entropic elasticity of proteins. It shows potential usefulness in structure recognition and protein folding simulations. The RW and RWplus potentials, as well as the newly generated I-TASSER decoys, are freely available in http://zhanglab.ccmb.med.umich.edu/RW.