European Biophysics Journal

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 177–182

The quenching of tryptophan fluorescence by protonated and unprotonated imidazole

  • K. Willaert
  • Y. Engelborghs

DOI: 10.1007/BF01561140

Cite this article as:
Willaert, K. & Engelborghs, Y. Eur Biophys J (1991) 20: 177. doi:10.1007/BF01561140


The fluorescence life-time of N-acetyl-tryptophan-amide (NATA) was measured by multifrequency phase fluorometry, in the presence of increasing concentrations of imidazole. Two pH values were tested, pH 4.5 where imidazole is fully protonated and pH 9.0 where it is fully unprotonated. At both pH values, the inverse life-time increases in a non-linear way with the imidazole concentration, showing that imidazole is not a high efficiency collisional quencher. The data can be analysed in terms of the formation of a complex with a reduced fluorescence life-time. The rate constants for association (at 25°C) are around 5 (±0.2) × 109 M−1 s−1 and are thus diffusion controlled. The association equilibrium constant is strongly pH dependent and is much higher than the expected value of 0.4 M−1 for a collisional complex. The intrinsic fluorescence life-time of the complex is 1.56 (±0.02) ns at pH 9.0 and 1.82 (±0.03) ns at pH 4.5, as compared to 2.37 (±0.03) ns for free NATA at pH 9.0 and 2.83 (±0.05) at pH 4.5 (all atI = 0.34). This means that at both pH values the fluorescence life-time of NATA in the complex is reduced to 61 (±0.5)% of its value in the free state. Despite this, the protonated form of imidazole is a better quencher at low concentrations, owing to a longer residence-time of the complex. At high viscosity the association equilibration is too slow and the system is described by two life-times. The quenching effect ofHis-18 on the fluorescence of the proximalTrp-94 of barnase (Locwenthal et al. 1991, Willaert et al. 1991) is discussed in terms of these findings.

Key words

FluorescenceTryptophanLife-timePhase fluorometryImidazoleHistidine

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. Willaert
    • 1
  • Y. Engelborghs
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Chemical and Biological DynamicsUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium