Unfolding in the N-terminal region of RNase A was studied by the nonradiative energy-transfer technique. RNase A was labeled with a nonfluorescent acceptor (2,4-dinitrophenyl) on the a-amino group and a fluorescent donor (ethylenediamine monoamide of 2-naphthoxyacetic acid) on a carboxyl group in the vicinity of residue 50 (75% at Glu-49 and 25% at Asp-53). The distribution of donor labeling sites does not affect the results of this study since they are close in both the sequence and the three-dimensional structure. The sites of labeling were determined by peptide mapping. The derivatives possessed full enzymatic activity and underwent reversible thermal transitions. However, there were some quantitative differences in the thermodynamic parameters. When the carboxyl groups were masked, there was a 5 °C lowering of the melting temperature at pH 2 and 4, and no significant change in ΔH(Tm). Labeling of the α-amino group had no effect on the melting temperature or ΔH(Tm) at pH 2 but did result in a dramatic decrease in ΔH(Tm) of the unfolding reaction at pH 4. The melting temperature did not change appreciably at pH 4, indicating that an enthalpy/entropy compensation had occurred. The efficiencies of energy transfer determined with both fluorescence intensity and lifetime measurements were in reasonably good agreement. The transfer efficiency dropped from about 60% under folding conditions to roughly 20% when the derivatives were unfolded with disulfide bonds intact and was further reduced to 5% when the disulfide bonds were reduced. The interprobe separation distance was estimated to be 35 ± 2 Å under folding conditions. The contribution to the interprobe distance resulting from the finite size of the probes was treated by using simple geometric considerations and a rotational isomeric state model of the donor probe linkage. With this model, the estimated average interprobe distance of 36 Å is in excellent agreement with the experimental result cited above.