Fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) measured at the single-molecule level can reveal conformational changes of biomolecules and intermolecular interactions in physiologically relevant conditions. Thus far single-molecule FRET has been measured only between two fluorophores. However, for many complex systems, the ability to observe changes in more than one distance is desired and FRET measured between three spectrally distinct fluorophores can provide a more complete picture. We have extended the single-molecule FRET technique to three colors, using the DNA four-way (Holliday) junction as a model system that undergoes two-state conformational fluctuations. By labeling three arms of the junction with Cy3 (donor), Cy5 (acceptor 1), and Cy5.5 (acceptor 2), distance changes between the donor and acceptor 1, and between the donor and acceptor 2, can be measured simultaneously. Thus we are able to show that the acceptor 1 arm moves away from the donor arm at the same time as the acceptor 2 arm approaches the donor arm, and vice versa, marking the first example of observing correlated movements of two different segments of a single molecule. Our data further suggest that Holliday junction does not spend measurable time with any of the helices unstacked, and that the parallel conformations are not populated to a detectable degree.
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