During the past several years there has been debate about the origins of nonexponential intensity decays of intrinsic tryptophan (trp) fluorescence of proteins, especially for single tryptophan proteins (STP). In this review we summarize the data from diverse sources suggesting that time-dependent spectral relaxation is a ubiquitous feature of protein fluorescence. For most proteins, the observations from numerous laboratories have shown that for trp residues in proteins (1) the mean decay times increase with increasing observation wavelength; (2) decay associated spectra generally show longer decay times for the longer wavelength components; and (3) collisional quenching of proteins usually results in emission spectral shifts to shorter wavelengths. Additional evidence for spectral relaxation comes from the time-resolved emission spectra that usually shows time-dependent shifts to longer wavelengths. These overall observations are consistent with spectral relaxation in proteins occurring on a subnanosecond timescale. These results suggest that spectral relaxation is a significant if not dominant source of nonexponential decay in STP, and should be considered in any interpretation of nonexponential decay of intrinsic protein fluorescence.
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Vol. 72 • No. 4