Genetic Algorithm Optimization of Point Charges in Force Field Development: Challenges and Insights

Document Type




Format of Original

13 p.

Publication Date



American Chemical Society

Source Publication

Journal of Physical Chemistry A

Source ISSN



Evolutionary methods, such as genetic algorithms (GAs), provide powerful tools for optimization of the force field parameters, especially in the case of simultaneous fitting of the force field terms against extensive reference data. However, GA fitting of the nonbonded interaction parameters that includes point charges has not been explored in the literature, likely due to numerous difficulties with even a simpler problem of the least-squares fitting of the atomic point charges against a reference molecular electrostatic potential (MEP), which often demonstrates an unusually high variation of the fitted charges on buried atoms. Here, we examine the performance of the GA approach for the least-squares MEP point charge fitting, and show that the GA optimizations suffer from a magnified version of the classical buried atom effect, producing highly scattered yet correlated solutions. This effect can be understood in terms of the linearly independent, natural coordinates of the MEP fitting problem defined by the eigenvectors of the least-squares sum Hessian matrix, which are also equivalent to the eigenvectors of the covariance matrix evaluated for the scattered GA solutions. GAs quickly converge with respect to the high-curvature coordinates defined by the eigenvectors related to the leading terms of the multipole expansion, but have difficulty converging with respect to the low-curvature coordinates that mostly depend on the buried atom charges. The performance of the evolutionary techniques dramatically improves when the point charge optimization is performed using the Hessian or covariance matrix eigenvectors, an approach with a significant potential for the evolutionary optimization of the fixed-charge biomolecular force fields.


Journal of Physical Chemistry A, Vol. 119, No. 8 (2015): 1422-1434. DOI.