The kinetics of triplex folding/unfolding is investigated by the single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) technique. In neutral pH conditions, the average dwell times in both high-FRET (folded) and low-FRET (unfolded) states are comparable, meaning that the triplex is marginally stable. The dwell-time distributions are qualitatively different: while the dwell-time distribution of the high-FRET state should be fit with at least a double-exponential function, the dwell-time distribution of the low-FRET state can be fit with a single-exponential function. We propose a model where the folding can be trapped in metastable states, which is consistent with the FRET data. Our model also accounts for the fact that the relevant timescales of triplex folding/unfolding are macroscopic.
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