A simple adaptation of a commercial spectrofluorometer allows selective excitation of fluorescent biomolecules adsorbed to a solid surface while they are in equilibrium with a bulk solution. As a demonstration of this technique, we have detected a change in the effective singlet-singlet energy transfer in fluorescence-labeled bovine serum albumin (BSA) upon adsorption to a fused silica surface. The technique combines total internal reflection fluorescence excitation of surface-adsorbed BSA with a fluorescence spectroscopic examination of energy transfer between two different fluorophores that are covalently bound to amino groups in each BSA molecule. Two donor-acceptor pairs were used, 4-chloro-7-nitro-2,1,3-benzoxadiazole-rhodamine and dansyl-eosin. For studies of surface-adsorbed BSA, we constructed a device in which the excitation light of a standard fluorescence spectrometer totally internally reflects from a surface at which adsorbed BSA is in equilibrium with the bulk solution. A shallow evanescent wave is created, which excites fluorescence from only those BSA molecules in close proximity to the surface. Spectral examination shows significantly less effective singlet-singlet energy transfer from the donor to the acceptor in surface-adsorbed BSA relative to that in native bulk-dissolved BSA. Under appropriate and reasonable assumptions, the energy transfer change between native and adsorbed states of fluorescent BSA can be interpreted as a conformational change of BSA upon adsorption.
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