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Circular Dichroism (CD) Spectroscopy

  1. P. Anthony Presta,
  2. Martin J. Stillman

Published Online: 15 DEC 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9781119951438.eibc0308

Encyclopedia of Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry

How to Cite

Presta, P. A. and Stillman, M. J. 2011. Circular Dichroism (CD) Spectroscopy. Encyclopedia of Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2011


Circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy is of fundamental importance as a tool in all areas of chemistry and biochemistry because this technique is the simplest and fastest measure of the presence of the chiral species that lead to optical activity. Chiral centers and chiral species exist from the simplest molecules to complex organic molecules, from inorganic complexes to metal-based biological molecules, typically metalloproteins; from folded polymers, which are typically peptides and proteins; to the supramolecular organization of the quaternary structure of proteins; including all forms of helical structure typified by the the double helix; to liquid crystals and beyond, to even more massive and organized species. For all these species, CD spectroscopy provides insight into the presence and the extent of the chiral electric field induced by the atomic and molecular organization. The optical activity is detected under electronic and vibrational absorption bands as a result of the differential absorption of left- and right-circularly polarized light. Measurement of mirror images of the CD spectrum is commonly used to determine the enantiomeric purity of small molecules. The measurement of the change, and sometimes loss, of optical activity measured in the spectral region of the chiral chromophores can be used to determine and understand the denaturation of a folded protein as the chirality changes with the change in gross structural features associated with the folding.

We focus particularly in this chapter on the influence of metals on the chiral properties of proteins. Metal binding results in changes in molecular and supramolecular conformations readily measured under metal-based spectral bands. In cases for which the folding of the protein is almost entirely metal-induced, the CD spectrum becomes an extremely sensitive marker for structural change as a function of metal loading allowing both the stoichiometry of metal binding and the coordination geometry to be proposed.

Measurement of the chirality of a molecule is easy in the region 190–1000 nm as several relatively inexpensive instruments provide high sensitivity. Time-resolved CD spectral data are also readily achievable using stopped-flow devices. Measurement in the infrared regions is also popular and provides invaluable information; instruments can now be purchased “off the shelf”. The new growth area is the use of synchrotron radiation as the light source allowing CD spectral data to be measured in all regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, but particularly, for energies higher than 50 000 cm−1 (below 200 nm).


  • circular dichroism spectroscopy;
  • chirality;
  • asymmetry