LOCATE-TS, LOCATE-TS(C:[n.nn[,n.nn[,n.nn...]]][;Set:m])


This function was developed specifically for locating transition states in enzyme-catalyzed reactions, but can be used for more general reactions.

The objective of LOCATE-TS is to locate and refine a transition state joining two stationary points in a reaction.  These points are more commonly referred to as reactants and products, but for convenience in this description these geometries will be referred to as A and BA and B are used because during the calculation the geometries will be modified as they move towards each other, and would therefore no longer be stationary points.  In LOCATE-TS, the geometry optimization is performed on both A and B simultaneously.   For small systems consider using SADDLE.

The function being optimized is:

 ΔHf' = ΔHfA + ΔHfB +cΣi(XAi - XBi)2

where ΔHfA and ΔHfB  are the calculated heats of formation of A and B, respectively. "c" is a constant, in kcal/mol/Ångstrom2, and XAi and XBi are the coordinates of atom "i" in the A and B, respectively. 

When it is necessary to keep some atoms fixed, atoms in the data-set that are not flagged for optimization can be frozen by adding keyword NOOPT.  

Advice on using LOCATE-TS

Both geometries used must be as good as possible: They should be stationary points on the Potential Energy Surface (PES); they should include PDB data, either by using a PDB file or, more commonly, by using the normal MOPAC data-set format, and having the atoms labeled with PDB data.

It is helpful to have all the files involved located in the same folder.  Although not essential, this will make the job of defining GEO_DAT and GEO_REF easier.

Because of the large probability of introducing errors into the data sets, instead of preparing specific data-sets it is safer to define the geometries to be used using GEO_DAT and GEO_REF, and having these keywords point to ARC files.  This results in a very small data set.  For example, if the reactant geometry is in Step_1.arc and the product geometry is in Step_2.arc, the data set would be as follows:

Example of a complete data set for LOCATE-TS

LOCATE-TS GEO_DAT="Step_1.arc" GEO_REF="Step_2.arc" EPS=78.4

EPS is specified here, because using implicit solvation gives a more realistic model for biochemical reactions.   Keyword  LOCATE-TS causes the MOZYME function to be used, so there is no need to add keyword MOZYME, if it is supplied, it will be ignored.

WARNING: The quality of the transition state geometry is normally not very good.  It's good enough to allow tests, such as FORCE and inspection using a GUI, to be run to verify that it is, in fact, a transition state, but the heat of formation is likely to be in error because the geometry is not fully optimized. Unless corrected, this fault would compromise any comparison of transition-state heats of formation with heats of formation of ground-state systems.  This correction is not done automatically - finding transition state geometries requires a lot of CPU time, and, often at the start of a project, many attempts will fail.  So rather than perform a lengthy geometry optimization on a faulty transition state, a "quick and dirty" job is done.  Once a good transition state is found, it can then be refined as follows:

Reactions involving bond making and bond breaking, i.e., chemical reactions

Geometries resulting from transition state refinement could be regarded as being composed of two sets: those atoms directly involved in the reaction, and all other atoms. As a result of the refinement the positions of all atoms in the first set, typically 7 or fewer, would be highly optimized. By freezing the positions of these atoms and then running the second geometry optimization procedure, the geometry of the entire transition-state system could be optimized to the same precision as that used for stable intermediates. In test calculations, a gradient minimization was performed using the atoms in the first set to verify that this operation did not introduce spurious forces; in all cases, this resulted in only insignificant changes in the heat of formation and in the positions of the atoms.  Use INVERT to quickly switch optimization flags.

If keyword LET is present, docking of the two systems will not be performed in a LOCATE-TS job.  This is useful in small systems if the atoms are in the same order in the reactants and products.  Avoid using LET in large systems, instead identify any mis-matches and edit the reactants or product labels to correct the error.  

Reactions involving only conformational changes

Transition states between different conformers can be located using LOCATE-TS. As with chemical reactions, conformational changes involve "reactants" and "products," but no bonds are made or broken.  Once the approximate transition state is located, it can be refined using TS or other transition-state refinement method. Unlike the refinement when chemical reactions are modeled, INVERT cannot be used because no bonds are made or broken.

Worked exercise in locating a transition state.

A complete enzyme catalyzed mechanism for the hydrolysis of a peptide bond is given in Chymotrypsin Mechanism.  The worked exercise involves determining the transition state for the first reaction step.  Except for Step 3 => Step 4, the other steps are similar.

Download Step_1.arc and Step_2.arc and store them in a new folder.  In the same folder, create a text file, Step_1_2_Transition_State.mop.  Edit this file to add the text in the above example.  Run the job using MOPAC.  It should run for about one day.  If an ARC file is generated, the test was successful.  If it was not generated, please contact me at openmopac@gmail.com, and send me the data set and output files. 

How  LOCATE-TS works

The process that LOCATE-TS uses is as follows: The reference data set geometry, defined using GEO_REF, is rotated and translated to put it into the best overlap with the geometry from the input data set.  At this point, the two geometries are likely to be quite different.  This difference can be expressed as a distance, defined as the square root of the sum in the above equation.  Typical distances in enzyme chemistry are in the order of 50 - 300Å.  Geometry optimization is then started, using a small value for "c," by default this is 3 kcal/mol/Ångstrom2.  The first step consists of solving the SCF equations using the MOZYME technique.  (There is no need to specify MOZYME, the presence of LOCATE-TS implies MOZYME.)  All subsequent steps use the wavefunction from this initial SCF calculation, and the pull exerted by the "c" term. This causes the two geometries to move towards each other without imposing a large stress. During this process, the distance will typically drop by a large amount - the two geometries can be regarded as moving across an almost level plane until they stop near the bottom of the activation barrier.  The value of "c" is then increased; the new default value is 30 kcal/mol/Ångstrom2.  This large pull then moves A and B up the barrier to near to the transition state.  As with the previous step, the first point involves solving the SCF equations, and all subsequent points use the frozen wavefunction.  This optimization is repeated a few times using the same value of "c" to ensure that the wavefunction is sufficiently relaxed.  When the optimization is finished the geometries of A and B are almost the same, with one on each side of the transition state.

An estimate of the transition state geometry, C,  is obtained by averaging the two geometries.  The next few steps involve a pair of operations, each pair being repeated a small number of times, typically two to five times.  The first of this pair of operations involves geometry optimization of C, while holding fixed all atoms involved in bond making or bond breaking, i.e. optimizing the positions of all atoms except those in the active site.  The second step involves transition state location, i.e., gradient minimization, but this time using only the atoms in the active site. 

Options for LOCATE-TS


LOCATE-TS can be used on its own, i.e., without any of the terms in the square brackets; if that is done, then the default optimization procedure is used, and output is small.  The default optimization can be reproduced using LOCATE-TS(C:3,30,30,30;SET:1)

About half the time the default LOCATE-TS does not finish correctly. Almost always the first big step, moving the reactants and products up the reaction barrier, runs correctly, and most of the time when failures occur they occur in the refinement of the transition state. Because of this behavior, at the end of the first big step three data sets are generated that can then be used in attempting to refine the transition stae.  These data sets have the names <name>_30p0_first.mop<name>_30p0_second.mop, and  <name>_30p0_average.mop.   <name>_30p0_first.mop is the final geometry generated from the original data set (the reactant) or by the file defined by GEO_DAT<name>_30p0_second.mop is the final geometry from GEO_REF. <name>_30p0_first.mop and <name>_30p0_second.mop are thus the geometries on each side of the transition state, near the top of the reaction barrier.  An approximation to the transition state geometry is the average of these two structures, this is given in <name>_30p0_average.mop.  The final value of "c" used is indicated by the text "30p0"  This specific case represents a value of "c" of 30.0 kcal/mol/Ångstrom2.


If LOCATE-TS does not finish correctly, examine the structures on each side of the transition state.  If these look correct, then try to refine them by using this option.  Do not start with a constraint lower than the last value used in the previous run - if the constraint is lowered, the two systems will move away from the transition state.  Using options of the type shown here increases the possibility that the refinement would work correctly because the refinement would be started with a geometry that was nearer to the transition state.

If the structures on each side of the transition state do not look correct, then start over with a more cautious set of constraints.  An example of such a cautious set would be LOCATE-TS(C:1,3,10,20,25,25;SET:1) This starts the procedure with a small penalty function, 1.0 kcal/mol/Ångstrom2 followed, in order, by increasing biases, until a penalty of 25.0 kcal/mol/Ångstrom2 is used. The transition state would then be refined using Set 1, i.e., all atoms involved in bond making or bond breaking.

When this form of the keyword is used, the output will be larger, and intermediate files generated; these files can then be used in locating the transition state manually.  The number of constraints used can be decreased to zero or increased up to 20.  Two main options for the size of the active site are provided. SET:1 consists of only those atoms involved in bond making or bond breaking and SET:2 which consists of SET:1 plus nearest neighbors.

LOCATE-TS(C:0.001,0.002,0.005,0.010,0.020,0.05,0.1,0.2,0.5,1,2,5,10,20,50,100,200) NOSWAP

Used when reactions involving conformational changes are being modeled.  Because no bonds are made or broken, ";SET:x" is not used.  Because conformational changes typically involve large geometric changes the starting bias is very small. For the same reason, keyword NOSWAP is also used.


The two data sets used by  LOCATE-TS are passed directly, i.e., without modification, to the transition state refinement operation. If the two geometries are near to the transition state, there is an increased probability that the process for recognizing bond-breaking and bond making operation will not work correctly.  To avoid problems with this operation, use the next option, vis LOCATE-TS(SET:1).


This option uses only one data-set, usually the one generated by an earlier run, e.g., <name>_30p0_average.mop.  Carefully define the atoms involved in bond-breaking and bond-making by setting their optimization flags set to "1", all other optimization flags being set to zero. When this option is used the option for "SET:2" is meaningless.

   LOCATE-TS was developed and optimized for use with enzymes.  It can be used for other species, but the probability of success is lower.


When Things Go Wrong

Quite often, particularly with difficult reactions, e.g., hydride, H-, migration, the gradient minimizer might fail to produce a valid geometry. When this happens, have a look at the geometry in "<filename> Loop1.mop"  If it looks reasonable, proceed as follows:

Edit the set of keywords to convert it into a normal transition-state optimization calculation.  This will involve deleting the keywords GEO_REF and LOCATE-TS, and adding the keywords MOZYME, TS, GNORM=3.  The geometry already has the flags set for the atoms involved in the reaction.  Run that job.  It will likely fail, but the resulting geometry will likely be nearer to the transition state, and if that geometry is run, the gradient minimization will likely work.  Well, it did work on several difficult transition states.

At this point, a reasonable question is, why doesn't MOPAC do this itself.  The short answer is "Yes, it should."  The longer answer is, someone has to write the software to do this.  An even longer answer is, there should be better gradient minimizers.  Until work on this is done, the process just described is the best that exists in MOPAC.

If LOCATE-TS fails to produce a reasonable transition state, it is possible to get better geometries for the reactants and products, i.e., geometries on each side of the transition state.  In addition, the average of these geometries might be a useful approximation to the transition state.  When LOCATE-TS is run it produces a set of data-set files for each value of bias used, one for the reactants, one for the products, and one for the average.  These can be identified by the value of the bias and the words "first", "second", and "average" in the the file-names.  If the transition state geometry was correct, then delete these intermediate geometries.  If it is not correct, look at these files to see if anything useful can be found.  In particular, look for intermediate geometries that are on the slope of the activation barrier.  These might be useful in restarting the transition state location.



Three different gradient optimization methods can be used: Baker's Eigenfollowing method TS, the McIver-Komornicki gradient minimization method SIGMA, and Bartel's NLLSQ. If one of these keywords is present, that method will be used. Otherwise, Baker's Eigenfollowing method will be used by default. 

Complete worked examples of LOCATE-TS

LOCATE-TS was used to locate transition states in the chymotrypsin mechanism.  To reproduce this mechanism, download the ARC files for the intermediates (Step 1 to Step 6), and use the LOCATE-TS keyword in the transition state stationary point arc files.

A simple worked example of a conformational change is provided by the inversion of a nitrogen atom in triethanolamine.