An introduction to biological nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy

John Bothwell, J.L. Griffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


ABSTRACT Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is one of the most powerful analytical techniques available to biology. This review is an introduction to the potential of this method and is aimed at readers who have little or no experience in acquiring or analyzing NMR spectra. We focus on spectroscopic applications of the magnetic resonance effect, rather than imaging ones, and explain how various aspects of the NMR phenomenon make it a versatile tool with which to address a number of biological problems. Using detailed examples, we discuss the use of 1H NMR spectroscopy in mixture analysis and metabolomics, the use of 13C NMR spectroscopy in tracking isotopomers and determining the flux through metabolic pathways (‘fluxomics’) and the use of 31P NMR spectroscopy in monitoring ATP generation and intracellular pH homeotasis in vivo. Further examples demonstrate how NMR spectroscopy can be used to probe the physical environment of a cell by measuring diffusion and the tumbling rates of individual metabolites and how it can determine macromolecular structures by measuring the bonds and distances which separate individual atoms. We finish by outlining some of the key challenges which remain in NMR spectroscopy and we highlight how recent advances— such as increased magnet field strengths, cryogenic cooling, microprobes and hyperpolarisation—are opening new avenues for today’s biological NMR spectroscopists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-510
Number of pages18
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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