In protein-folding studies it is often required to differentiate a system with only two-states, namely the native (N) and unfolded (U) forms of the protein present at any condition of the solvent, from a situation wherein intermediate state(s) could also be present. This differentiation of a two-state from a multi-state structural transition is non-trivial when studied by the several steady-state spectroscopic methods that are popular in protein-folding studies. In contrast to the steady-state methods, time-resolved fluorescence has the capability to reveal the presence of heterogeneity of structural forms due to the `fingerprint’ nature of fluorescence lifetimes of various forms. In this work, we establish this method by quantitative analysis of amplitudes associated with fluorescence lifetimes in multiexponential decays. First, we show that we can estimate, accurately, the relative population of species from two-component mixtures of non-interacting molecules such as fluorescent dyes, peptides and proteins. Subsequently, we demonstrate, by analysing the amplitudes of fluorescence lifetimes which are controlled by fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), that the equilibrium folding-unfolding transition of the small singledomain protein barstar is not a two-step process.
Volume 134, 2022
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