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Open Access Methodology article

Implementation of force distribution analysis for molecular dynamics simulations

Wolfram Stacklies1, Christian Seifert2 and Frauke Graeter2*

Author Affiliations

1 CAS-MPG Partner Institute and Key Laboratory for Computational Biology, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 320 Yueyang Road, Shanghai 200031, China

2 HITS gGmbH, Schloss-Wolfsbrunnenweg 35, 69118 Heidelberg, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:101  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-101

Published: 18 April 2011



The way mechanical stress is distributed inside and propagated by proteins and other biopolymers largely defines their function. Yet, determining the network of interactions propagating internal strain remains a challenge for both, experiment and theory. Based on molecular dynamics simulations, we developed force distribution analysis (FDA), a method that allows visualizing strain propagation in macromolecules.


To be immediately applicable to a wide range of systems, FDA was implemented as an extension to Gromacs, a commonly used package for molecular simulations. The FDA code comes with an easy-to-use command line interface and can directly be applied to every system built using Gromacs. We provide an additional R-package providing functions for advanced statistical analysis and presentation of the FDA data.


Using FDA, we were able to explain the origin of mechanical robustness in immunoglobulin domains and silk fibers. By elucidating propagation of internal strain upon ligand binding, we previously also successfully revealed the functionality of a stiff allosteric protein. FDA thus has the potential to be a valuable tool in the investigation and rational design of mechanical properties in proteins and nano-materials.