Wavelength-selective fluorescence as a novel tool to study organization and dynamics in complex biological systems
The dynamics exhibited by a given component of a large macromolecule such as a folded globular protein or an organized supramolecular assembly like the biological membrane is a function of its precise localization within the larger system. A set of approaches based on the red edge effect in fluorescence spectroscopy, which can be used to monitordirectly the environment and dynamics around a fluorophore in a complex biological system, is reviewed in this article. A shift in the wavelength of maximum fluorescence emission toward higher wavelengths, caused by a shift in the excitation wavelength toward the red edge of the absorption band, is termed the red edge excitation shift (REES). This effect is mostly observed with polar fluorophores in motionally restricted media such as very viscous solutions or condensed phases. This phenomenon arises from the slow rates of solvent relaxation around an excited-state fluorophore, which is a function of the motional restriction imposed on the solvent molecules in the immediate vicinity of the fluorophore. Utilizing this approach, it becomes possible to probe the mobility parameters of the environment itself (which is represented by the relaxing solvent molecules) using the fluorophore merely as a reporter group. Further, since the ubiquitous solvent for biological systems is water, the information obtained in such cases will come from the otherwise 'optically silent' water molecules. This makes REES and related techniques extremely useful in biology since hydration plays a crucial modulatory role in a large number of important cellular events.