We have developed and optimized a stopped-flow fluorescence assay for use in studying DNA unwinding catalyzed by Escherichia coli RecBCD helicase. This assay monitors changes in fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) between a pair of fluorescent probes (Cy3 donor and Cy5 acceptor) placed on opposite sides of a nick in duplex DNA. As such, this is an "all-or-none" DNA unwinding assay. Single turnover DNA unwinding experiments were performed using a series of eight fluorescent DNA substrates containing duplex DNA regions ranging from 24 bp to 60 bp. The time-courses obtained by monitoring Cy3 fluorescence display a distinct lag phase that increases with increasing duplex DNA length, reflecting the transient formation of partially unwound DNA intermediates. These Cy3 FRET time-courses are identical with those obtained using a chemical quenched-flow kinetic assay developed previously. The signal from the Cy5 fluorescence probe shows additional effects that appear to specifically monitor the RecD helicase subunit. The continuous nature of this fluorescence assay enabled us to acquire more precise time-courses for many more duplex DNA lengths in a significantly reduced amount of time, compared to quenched-flow methods. Global analysis of the Cy3 and Cy5 FRET time-courses, using an n-step sequential DNA unwinding model, indicates that RecBCD unwinds duplex DNA with an average unwinding rate constant of kU= 200(±40)stepss-1 (mkU=680(±12)bps -1) and an average kinetic step size, m=3.4(±0.6)bpstep -1 (5 mM ATP, 10 mM MgCl2, 30 mM NaCl, pH 7.0, 5% (v/v) glycerol, 25.0°C), in excellent agreement with the kinetic parameters determined using quenched-flow techniques. Under these same conditions, the RecBC enzyme unwinds DNA with a very similar rate. These methods will facilitate detailed studies of the mechanisms of DNA unwinding and translocation of the RecBCD and RecBC helicases. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.