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J Chem Phys. 2018 Mar 28;148(12):123329. doi: 10.1063/1.5006954.

Inferring properties of disordered chains from FRET transfer efficiencies.

Author information

1
Laboratory of Chemical Physics, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-0520, USA.
2
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18015, USA.
3
Department of Biochemistry, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland.

Abstract

Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) is a powerful tool for elucidating both structural and dynamic properties of unfolded or disordered biomolecules, especially in single-molecule experiments. However, the key observables, namely, the mean transfer efficiency and fluorescence lifetimes of the donor and acceptor chromophores, are averaged over a broad distribution of donor-acceptor distances. The inferred average properties of the ensemble therefore depend on the form of the model distribution chosen to describe the distance, as has been widely recognized. In addition, while the distribution for one type of polymer model may be appropriate for a chain under a given set of physico-chemical conditions, it may not be suitable for the same chain in a different environment so that even an apparently consistent application of the same model over all conditions may distort the apparent changes in chain dimensions with variation of temperature or solution composition. Here, we present an alternative and straightforward approach to determining ensemble properties from FRET data, in which the polymer scaling exponent is allowed to vary with solution conditions. In its simplest form, it requires either the mean FRET efficiency or fluorescence lifetime information. In order to test the accuracy of the method, we have utilized both synthetic FRET data from implicit and explicit solvent simulations for 30 different protein sequences, and experimental single-molecule FRET data for an intrinsically disordered and a denatured protein. In all cases, we find that the inferred radii of gyration are within 10% of the true values, thus providing higher accuracy than simpler polymer models. In addition, the scaling exponents obtained by our procedure are in good agreement with those determined directly from the molecular ensemble. Our approach can in principle be generalized to treating other ensemble-averaged functions of intramolecular distances from experimental data.

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