Model-independent methods for the reconstruction of the nitroxide spin probe angular distribution of labeled oriented biological assemblies from electron spin resonance (ESR) spectra were investigated. We found that accurate probe angular distribution information could be obtained from the simultaneous consideration of a series of ESR spectra originating from a sample at differing tilt angles relative to the Zeeman magnetic field. Using simulated tilt series data sets, we developed a consistent criteria for judging the reliability of the simulated fit to the data as a function of the free spectral parameters and thereby have increased the significance of the model-independent reconstruction of the probe angular distribution derived from the fit. We have also enhanced the angular resolution measurable with the model-independent methodology by increasing the rank of the order parameters that we can reliably deduce from a spectrum. This enhancement allows us to accurately deduce higher resolution features of the spin probe distribution. Finally we investigated the usefulness of fitting the tilt series data in multiple data sets such that tilt series data from many identical sample preparations are fitted simultaneously. This method proved to be useful in rapidly reducing a large amount of data by eliminating any redundant computations in the application of the enhanced model-independent analysis to identical sets of tilt series data. We applied the methodology developed here to ESR spectra from probe labeled muscle fibers to study the orientation of myosin cross-bridges in fibers. This application is described in the accompanying paper.
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