Residual dipolar couplings are being increasingly used as structural constraints for NMR studies of biomolecules. A problem arises when dipolar coupling contributions are larger than scalar contributions for a given spin pair, as is commonly observed in solid state NMR studies, in that signs of dipolar couplings cannot easily be determined. Here the sign ambiguities of dipolar couplings in field-oriented bicelles are resolved by variable angle sample spinning (VASS) techniques. The director behavior of field-oriented bicelles (DMPC/DHPC, DMPC/CHAPSO) in VASS is studied by 31P NMR. A stable configuration occurs when the spinning angle is smaller than the magic angle, 54.7°, and the director (or bicelle normal) of the disks is mainly distributed in a plane perpendicular to the rotation axis. Since the dipolar couplings depend on how the bicelles are oriented with respect to the magnetic field, it is shown that the dipolar interaction can be scaled to the same order as the J-coupling by moving the spinning axis from 0°toward 54.7°. Thus the relative sign of dipolar and scalar couplings can be determined.
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