Effects of geometry and chemistry on hydrophobic salvation

Robert C. Harris, B. Montgomery Pettitt, Pablo G. Debenedetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Inserting an uncharged van der Waals (vdw) cavity into water disrupts the distribution of water and creates attractive dispersion interactions between the solvent and solute. This free-energy change is the hydrophobic solvation energy (ΔGvdw). Frequently, it is assumed to be linear in the solvent-accessible surface area, with a positive surface tension (γ) that is independent of the properties of the molecule. However, we found that γ for a set of alkanes differed from that for four configurations of decaalanine, and γ = -5 was negative for the decaalanines. These findings conflict with the notion that ΔGvdw favors smaller A. We broke ΔGvdw into the free energy required to exclude water from the vdw cavity (ΔGrep) and the free energy of forming the attractive interactions between the solute and solvent (ΔGatt) and found that γ < 0 for the decaalanines because -γatt > γrep and γatt < 0. Additionally, γatt and γrep for the alkanes differed from those for the decaalanines, implying that none of ΔGatt, ΔGrep, and ΔGvdw can be computed with a constant surface tension. We also showed that ΔGatt could not be computed from either the initial or final water distributions, implying that this quantity is more difficult to compute than is sometimes assumed. Finally, we showed that each atom's contribution to γrep depended on multibody interactions with its surrounding atoms, implying that these contributions are not additive. These findings call into question some hydrophobic models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14681-14686
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 14 2014


  • Free energy of solvation
  • Hydration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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