The physical basis of protein structure, dynamics and function has been intensely studied for several decades. Indeed since the new millennium there has been a tremendous expansion in the number of unique topological folds that have been characterized at high resolution by crystallographic and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) based methods. In the midst of this rush towards a grand scale structural genomics effort, a quieter effort dedicated to the experimental characterization of protein conformational heterogeneity has also emerged. The influence of atomic scale structure on molecular recognition and catalysis by proteins is often the focus of attention while the role of dynamics is largely unknown and frequently ignored. Nevertheless, it has long been recognized that proteins are indeed dynamic systems. Weber's characterization of proteins as "kicking and screaming" is particularly poignant. However, there has been considerable frustration in obtaining comprehensive site-resolved information about protein motion.
Early insights into the time scale and character of protein internal motion largely employed local optical probes, unresolved hydrogen exchange, and one dimensional NMR techniques that, though limited, revealed a startling complexity and richness in the internal motion of proteins. These initial views contributed significantly to the development of current treatments of protein dynamics and thermodynamics. The connection to biological function rather than just biological form is more recent. Internal protein dynamics can potentially affect protein function through a variety of mechanisms, some of which are tautological or obvious in nature while others are subtle and remain to be fully explored and appreciated. There are now several examples of protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions that illustrate that dynamics may be fundamentally linked to function in several ways (see Protein Interactions). Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is very much at the center of our current efforts to illuminate the nature of protein dynamics and their role in biological function.