There is a gap between kinetic experiment and simulation in their views of the dynamics of complex biomolecular systems. Whereas experiments typically reveal only a few readily discernible exponential relaxations, simulations often indicate complex multistate behavior. Here, a theoretical framework is presented that reconciles these two approaches. The central concept is “dynamical fingerprints” which contain peaks at the time scales of the dynamical processes involved with amplitudes determined by the experimental observable. Fingerprints can be generated from both experimental and simulation data, and their comparison by matching peaks permits assignment of structural changes present in the simulation to experimentally observed relaxation processes. The approach is applied here to a test case interpreting single molecule fluorescence correlation spectroscopy experiments on a set of fluorescent peptides with molecular dynamics simulations. The peptides exhibit complex kinetics shown to be consistent with the apparent simplicity of the experimental data. Moreover, the fingerprint approach can be used to design new experiments with site-specific labels that optimally probe specific dynamical processes in the molecule under investigation.
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