Our results show that the noncovalent dye 9-diethylamino-5H-benzo[α]phenoxazine-5-one (Nile red) can be used as a fluorescent probe to study the hydrophobic properties of proteins associated with the anionic detergent sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS). Nile red can interact with both SDS micelles and protein-SDS complexes. The enhancement of Nile red fluorescence observed with diverse types of proteins occurs at SDS concentrations lower than the critical micelle concentration of this detergent. This is also observed using the covalent fluorophore rhodamine B isothiocyanate. Additional results obtained in studies in solution show that the fluorescence intensity and the spectral characteristics of Nile red associated with different proteins complexed with SDS are very similar. These spectroscopic similarities are probably related to the equivalent synchrotron X-ray scattering results found for various protein-SDS complexes in solution. The scattering results suggest that SDS induces the formation of complexes in which the basic structural properties are independent of the different initial structures of native proteins. We speculate that Nile red is bound to regions with equivalent hydrophobic characteristics located in the uniform structures produced by the association of SDS with proteins. © 1991.