Macromolecular crowding effects in flexible polymer solutions

Bibhab Bandhu Majumdar, Simon Ebbinghaus, Matthias Heyden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Biological environments are often "crowded" due to high concentrations (300-400g/L) of macromolecules. Computational modeling approaches like Molecular Dynamics (MD), rigid-body Brownian Dynamics and Monte Carlo simulations have recently emerged, which allow to study the effects macromolecular crowding at a microscopic level and to provide complementary information to experiments. Here, we use a recently introduced multiple-conformation Monte Carlo (mcMC) approach in order to study the influence of intermolecular interactions on the structural equilibrium of flexible polyethylene glycol (PEG) polymers under self-crowding conditions. The large conformational space accessible to PEG polymers allows us to evaluate the general applicability of the mcMC approach, which describes the intramolecular degrees of freedom by a finite-size ensemble of discrete conformations. Despite the simplicity of the approach, we show that influences of intermolecular interactions on the intramolecular free energy surface can be described qualitatively using mcMC. By varying the magnitude of distinct terms in the intermolecular potential, we can further study the compensating effects of repulsive and nonspecific attractive intermolecular interactions, which favor compact and extended polymer states, respectively. We use our simulation results to derive an analytical model that describes the effects of intermolecular interactions on the stability of PEG polymer conformations as a function of the radius of gyration and the corresponding solvent accessible surface. We use this model to confirm the role of molecular surfaces for attractive interactions that can counteract excluded volume effects. Extrapolation of the model further allows for the analysis of scenarios that are not easily accessible to direct simulations as described here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1840006
JournalJournal of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • Excluded-volume effects
  • Free energy
  • Monte Carlo simulations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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