Inferring properties of disordered chains from FRET transfer efficiencies

Wenwei Zheng, Gül H. Zerze, Alessandro Borgia, Jeetain Mittal, Benjamin Schuler, Robert B. Best

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    63 Scopus citations


    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.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number123329
    JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
    Issue number12
    StatePublished - Mar 28 2018

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Physics and Astronomy(all)
    • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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