Statistical Interpretation of Fluorescence Energy Transfer Measurements in Macromolecular Systems

Zaharia Hillel, Cheng-Wen Wu Lee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


A statistical method is presented for the interpretation of intramolecular distance measurements by the fluorescence energy transfer technique in systems for which the detailed geometries of the donor-acceptor pairs are unknown. This method enables calculation of the probability that a specified distance range corresponds to the actual distance to be measured. It makes use of the numerically calculated probability density function for the distance of interest. The two general systems considered are the single donor-acceptor pair and the multi-donor-single-acceptor transfer. In both systems, the statistical method incorporates the uncertainty in the orientation of the donor and acceptor dipoles. In addition, it can take into account the rotational mobility of the donor dipoles determined by time-dependent emission anisotropy measurements. When more than one donor is involved in the transfer process, the uncertainties associated with the number and location of individual donors and the size and shape of the donor distribution are also incorporated in calculating the distance ranges. Application of the method was demonstrated for a wide range of transfer efficiency and R0 values for the single donor-acceptor system. Specific examples are also presented for interpretation of both single donoracceptor and multi-donor-single-acceptor energy transfer measurements performed in order to reveal the spatial relationship of the subunit and the rifampicin binding site in the Escherichia coli RNA polymerase (see Wu, C.-W., Yarbrough, L. R., Wu, F. Y.-H., and Hillel, Z. (1976), Biochemistry, preceding paper in this issue). Analysis of these energy transfer data by methods which use average values of the unknown geometrical parameters of the system yielded results similar to those obtained by the statistical method. However, the statistical method represents a more realistic approach to the interpretation of energy transfer measurements since it provides information concerning the entire range of possible distances and their relative likelihood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2105-2113
Number of pages9
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 May 1976


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