A sensor for purine nucleoside diphosphates in solution based on nucleoside diphosphate kinase (NDPK) has been developed. A single cysteine was introduced into the protein and labeled with the environmentally sensitive fluorophore, N-[2-(iodoacetamido)ethyl]-7-diethylaminocoumarin-3-carboxamide. The resultant molecule shows a 4-fold fluorescence increase when phosphorylated on His117; this phosphorylation is on the normal reaction pathway of the enzyme. The emission maximum of the phosphoenzyme is at 475 nm, with maximum excitation at 430 nm. The fluorescent phosphorylated NDPK is used to measure the amount of ADP and the unphosphorylated to measure ATP. The labeled protein is phosphorylated to > 90%, and the resultant molecule is stable on ice or can be stored at -80 degrees C. The fluorescence responds to the fraction of protein phosphorylated and so to the equilibrium between ADP plus NDPK approximately P and ATP plus NDPK. In effect, the sensor measures the ADP/ATP concentration ratio. The enzyme has a broad specificity for the purine of the nucleotides, so the sensor also can measure GDP/GTP ratios. The fluorescence and kinetic properties of the labeled protein are described. The binding rate constants of nucleotides are approximately 10(5) M(-1) s(-1), and the fluorescence change is at >200 s(-1) when the ADP concentration is >1 mM. Results are presented with two well-defined systems, namely, the kinetics of ADP release from myosin subfragment 1 and GDP release from the small G protein, human rho. The results obtained with this novel sensor agree with those from alternate methods and demonstrate the applicability for following micromolar changes in nucleoside diphosphate in real time.