Studying the interplay between protein structure and function remains a daunting task. Especially lacking are methods for measuring structural changes in real time. Here we report our most recent improvements to a method that can be used to address such challenges. This method, which we now call tryptophan-induced quenching (TrIQ), provides a straightforward, sensitive, and inexpensive way to address questions of conformational dynamics and short-range protein interactions. Importantly, TrIQ only occurs over relatively short distances (∼5-15 A), making it complementary to traditional fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) methods that occur over distances too large for precise studies of protein structure. As implied in the name, TrIQ measures the efficient quenching induced in some fluorophores by tryptophan (Trp). We present here our analysis of the TrIQ effect for five different fluorophores that span a range of sizes and spectral properties. Each probe was attached to four different cysteine residues on T4 lysozyme, and the extent of TrIQ caused by a nearby Trp was measured. Our results show that, at least for smaller probes, the extent of TrIQ is distance dependent. Moreover, we also demonstrate how TrIQ data can be analyzed to determine the fraction of fluorophores involved in a static, nonfluorescent complex with Trp. Based on this analysis, our study shows that each fluorophore has a different TrIQ profile, or "sphere of quenching", which correlates with its size, rotational flexibility, and the length of attachment linker. This TrIQ-based "sphere of quenching" is unique to every Trp-probe pair and reflects the distance within which one can expect to see the TrIQ effect. Thus,TrIQ provides a straightforward, readily accessible approach for mapping distances within proteins and monitoring conformational changes using fluorescence spectroscopy.
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