Resonance Raman spectroscopy may yield precise information on the conformation of, and the interactions assumed by, the chromophores involved in the first steps of the photosynthetic process. Selectivity is achieved via resonance with the absorption transition of the chromophore of interest. Fluorescence line-narrowing spectroscopy is a complementary technique, in that it provides the same level of information (structure, conformation, interactions), but in this case for the emitting pigment(s) only (whether isolated or in an ensemble of interacting chromophores). The selectivity provided by these vibrational techniques allows for the analysis of pigment molecules not only when they are isolated in solvents, but also when embedded in soluble or membrane proteins and even, as shown recently, in vivo. They can be used, for instance, to relate the electronic properties of these pigment molecules to their structure and/or the physical properties of their environment. These techniques are even able to follow subtle changes in chromophore conformation associated with regulatory processes. After a short introduction to the physical principles that govern resonance Raman and fluorescence line-narrowing spectroscopies, the information content of the vibrational spectra of chlorophyll and carotenoid molecules is described in this article, together with the experiments which helped in determining which structural parameter(s) each vibrational band is sensitive to. A selection of applications is then presented, in order to illustrate how these techniques have been used in the field of photosynthesis, and what type of information has been obtained. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Vibrational spectroscopies and bioenergetic systems.
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