Cosolvent hydrophobic preferential interactions with methane in aqueous methanol solutions are evaluated on the basis of the solute excess chemical potential derived from molecular simulations using the quasi-chemical (QC) theory generalization of the potential distribution theorem (PDT). We find that the methane–methanol preferential interaction parameter derived from QC theory quantitatively captures the favorable solvation of methane in methanol solutions in terms of important local solute–solvent (water and methanol) intermolecular interactions within a defined inner shell around the solute, and nonlocal solute interactions with solvent molecules outside this inner shell. Moreover, a unique inner shell can be defined such that the preferential interaction parameter is derived exclusively from the free energy of cavity formation in the aqueous cosolvent solution without the solute, where this cavity corresponds to the specified inner shell, and the mean interaction or binding energy of the solute with solvent molecules outside this inner shell. This inner-shell definition leads to a description of solute–cosolvent preferential interactions in which the molecular details of those interactions are derived from the effect of cosolvent on cavity statistics in the aqueous cosolvent solution alone. The finding suggests that solution thermodynamic behavior beyond steric exclusion (macromolecular crowding) contribute to the molecular mechanisms by which cosolvent preferential interactions influence protein stability and activity.
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