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Traffic. 2005 Dec;6(12):1078-92.

Fluorescence approaches for determining protein conformations, interactions and mechanisms at membranes.

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Department of Medical Biochemistry and Genetics, Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, College Station, TX 77843, USA.


Processes that occur at membranes are essential for the viability of every cell, but such processes are the least well understood at the molecular level. The complex nature and physical properties of the molecular components involved, as well as the requirement for two separated aqueous compartments, restrict the experimental approaches that can be successfully applied to examine the structure, conformational changes and interactions of the membrane-bound proteins that accomplish these processes. In particular, to accurately elucidate the molecular mechanisms that effect and regulate such processes, one must use experimental approaches that do not disrupt the structural integrity or functionality of the protein-membrane complexes being examined. To best accomplish this goal, especially when large multicomponent complexes and native membranes are involved, the optimal experimental approach to use is most often fluorescence spectroscopy. Using multiple independent fluorescence techniques, one can determine structural information in real time and in intact membranes under native conditions that cannot be obtained by crystallography, electron microscopy and NMR techniques, among others. Furthermore, fluorescence techniques provide a comprehensive range of information, from kinetic to thermodynamic, about the assembly, structure, function and regulation of membrane-bound proteins and complexes. This article describes the use of various fluorescence techniques to characterize different aspects of proteins bound to or embedded in membranes.

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