Section 66
Chapter 65,180

Going Vertical to Improve the Accuracy of Atomic Force Microscopy Based Single-Molecule Force Spectroscopy

Walder, R.; Van Patten, W.J.; Adhikari, A.; Perkins, T.T.

Acs Nano 12(1): 198-207


ISSN/ISBN: 1936-086X
PMID: 29244486
DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b05721
Accession: 065179102

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Single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS) is a powerful technique to characterize the energy landscape of individual proteins, the mechanical properties of nucleic acids, and the strength of receptor-ligand interactions. Atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based SMFS benefits from ongoing progress in improving the precision and stability of cantilevers and the AFM itself. Underappreciated is that the accuracy of such AFM studies remains hindered by inadvertently stretching molecules at an angle while measuring only the vertical component of the force and extension, degrading both measurements. This inaccuracy is particularly problematic in AFM studies using double-stranded DNA and RNA due to their large persistence length (p ≈ 50 nm), often limiting such studies to other SMFS platforms (e.g., custom-built optical and magnetic tweezers). Here, we developed an automated algorithm that aligns the AFM tip above the DNA's attachment point to a coverslip. Importantly, this algorithm was performed at low force (10-20 pN) and relatively fast (15-25 s), preserving the connection between the tip and the target molecule. Our data revealed large uncorrected lateral offsets for 100 and 650 nm DNA molecules [24 ± 18 nm (mean ± standard deviation) and 180 ± 110 nm, respectively]. Correcting this offset yielded a 3-fold improvement in accuracy and precision when characterizing DNA's overstretching transition. We also demonstrated high throughput by acquiring 88 geometrically corrected force-extension curves of a single individual 100 nm DNA molecule in ∼40 min and versatility by aligning polyprotein- and PEG-based protein-ligand assays. Importantly, our software-based algorithm was implemented on a commercial AFM, so it can be broadly adopted. More generally, this work illustrates how to enhance AFM-based SMFS by developing more sophisticated data-acquisition protocols.

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