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1.  Atomic Force Microscopy Application in Biological Research: A Review Study 
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a three-dimensional topographic technique with a high atomic resolution to measure surface roughness. AFM is a kind of scanning probe microscope, and its near-field technique is based on the interaction between a sharp tip and the atoms of the sample surface. There are several methods and many ways to modify the tip of the AFM to investigate surface properties, including measuring friction, adhesion forces and viscoelastic properties as well as determining the Young modulus and imaging magnetic or electrostatic properties. The AFM technique can analyze any kind of samples such as polymers, adsorbed molecules, films or fibers, and powders in the air whether in a controlled atmosphere or in a liquid medium. In the past decade, the AFM has emerged as a powerful tool to obtain the nanostructural details and biomechanical properties of biological samples, including biomolecules and cells. The AFM applications, techniques, and -in particular- its ability to measure forces, are not still familiar to most clinicians. This paper reviews the literature on the main principles of the AFM modality and highlights the advantages of this technique in biology, medicine, and- especially- dentistry. This literature review was performed through E-resources, including Science Direct, PubMed, Blackwell Synergy, Embase, Elsevier, and Scholar Google for the references published between 1985 and 2010.
PMCID: PMC3700051  PMID: 23825885
Atomic force microscopy; Scanning tunneling microscopy; Scanning probe microscopy; Dental; Biological
2.  Effect of the tip state during qPlus noncontact atomic force microscopy of Si(100) at 5 K: Probing the probe 
Background: Noncontact atomic force microscopy (NC-AFM) now regularly produces atomic-resolution images on a wide range of surfaces, and has demonstrated the capability for atomic manipulation solely using chemical forces. Nonetheless, the role of the tip apex in both imaging and manipulation remains poorly understood and is an active area of research both experimentally and theoretically. Recent work employing specially functionalised tips has provided additional impetus to elucidating the role of the tip apex in the observed contrast.
Results: We present an analysis of the influence of the tip apex during imaging of the Si(100) substrate in ultra-high vacuum (UHV) at 5 K using a qPlus sensor for noncontact atomic force microscopy (NC-AFM). Data demonstrating stable imaging with a range of tip apexes, each with a characteristic imaging signature, have been acquired. By imaging at close to zero applied bias we eliminate the influence of tunnel current on the force between tip and surface, and also the tunnel-current-induced excitation of silicon dimers, which is a key issue in scanning probe studies of Si(100).
Conclusion: A wide range of novel imaging mechanisms are demonstrated on the Si(100) surface, which can only be explained by variations in the precise structural configuration at the apex of the tip. Such images provide a valuable resource for theoreticians working on the development of realistic tip structures for NC-AFM simulations. Force spectroscopy measurements show that the tip termination critically affects both the short-range force and dissipated energy.
PMCID: PMC3304327  PMID: 22428093
force spectroscopy; image contrast; noncontact AFM; qPlus; Si(001); Si(100); tip (apex) structure
3.  A measurement of the hysteresis loop in force-spectroscopy curves using a tuning-fork atomic force microscope 
Measurements of the frequency shift versus distance in noncontact atomic force microscopy (NC-AFM) allow measurements of the force gradient between the oscillating tip and a surface (force-spectroscopy measurements). When nonconservative forces act between the tip apex and the surface the oscillation amplitude is damped. The dissipation is caused by bistabilities in the potential energy surface of the tip–sample system, and the process can be understood as a hysteresis of forces between approach and retraction of the tip. In this paper, we present the direct measurement of the whole hysteresis loop in force-spectroscopy curves at 77 K on the PTCDA/Ag/Si(111) √3 × √3 surface by means of a tuning-fork-based NC-AFM with an oscillation amplitude smaller than the distance range of the hysteresis loop. The hysteresis effect is caused by the making and breaking of a bond between PTCDA molecules on the surface and a PTCDA molecule at the tip. The corresponding energy loss was determined to be 0.57 eV by evaluation of the force–distance curves upon approach and retraction. Furthermore, a second dissipation process was identified through the damping of the oscillation while the molecule on the tip is in contact with the surface. This dissipation process occurs mainly during the retraction of the tip. It reaches a maximum value of about 0.22 eV/cycle.
PMCID: PMC3323909  PMID: 22496993
atomic force microscopy; energy dissipation; force spectroscopy; hysteresis loop; PTCDA/Ag/Si(111) √3 × √3
4.  Interpreting motion and force for narrow-band intermodulation atomic force microscopy 
Intermodulation atomic force microscopy (ImAFM) is a mode of dynamic atomic force microscopy that probes the nonlinear tip–surface force by measurement of the mixing of multiple modes in a frequency comb. A high-quality factor cantilever resonance and a suitable drive comb will result in tip motion described by a narrow-band frequency comb. We show, by a separation of time scales, that such motion is equivalent to rapid oscillations at the cantilever resonance with a slow amplitude and phase or frequency modulation. With this time-domain perspective, we analyze single oscillation cycles in ImAFM to extract the Fourier components of the tip–surface force that are in-phase with the tip motion (F I) and quadrature to the motion (F Q). Traditionally, these force components have been considered as a function of the static-probe height only. Here we show that F I and F Q actually depend on both static-probe height and oscillation amplitude. We demonstrate on simulated data how to reconstruct the amplitude dependence of F I and F Q from a single ImAFM measurement. Furthermore, we introduce ImAFM approach measurements with which we reconstruct the full amplitude and probe-height dependence of the force components F I and F Q, providing deeper insight into the tip–surface interaction. We demonstrate the capabilities of ImAFM approach measurements on a polystyrene polymer surface.
PMCID: PMC3566785  PMID: 23400552
atomic force microscopy; AFM; frequency combs; force spectroscopy; high-quality-factor resonators; intermodulation; multifrequency
5.  Noncontact microrheology at acoustic frequencies, using frequency-modulated atomic force microscopy 
Nature methods  2010;7(8):650-654.
We report an atomic force microscopy (AFM) method for assessing elastic and viscous properties of soft samples at acoustic frequencies under non-contact conditions. The method can be used to measure material properties via frequency modulation and is based on hydrodynamics theory of thin gaps we developed here. A cantilever with an attached microsphere is forced to oscillate tens of nanometers above a sample. The elastic modulus and viscosity of the sample are estimated by measuring the frequency-dependence of the phase lag between the oscillating microsphere and the driving piezo at various heights above the sample. This method features an effective area of pyramidal tips used in contact AFM but with only piconewton applied forces. Using this method, we analyzed polyacrylamide gels of different stiffness and assessed graded mechanical properties of guinea pig tectorial membrane. The technique enables the study of microrheology of biological tissues that produce or detect sound.
PMCID: PMC3508509  PMID: 20562866
6.  Measuring bacterial cells size with AFM 
Brazilian Journal of Microbiology  2012;43(1):341-347.
Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) can be used to obtain high-resolution topographical images of bacteria revealing surface details and cell integrity. During scanning however, the interactions between the AFM probe and the membrane results in distortion of the images. Such distortions or artifacts are the result of geometrical effects related to bacterial cell height, specimen curvature and the AFM probe geometry. The most common artifact in imaging is surface broadening, what can lead to errors in bacterial sizing. Several methods of correction have been proposed to compensate for these artifacts and in this study we describe a simple geometric model for the interaction between the tip (a pyramidal shaped AFM probe) and the bacterium (Escherichia coli JM-109 strain) to minimize the enlarging effect. Approaches to bacteria immobilization and examples of AFM images analysis are also described.
PMCID: PMC3768968  PMID: 24031837
Atomic force microscopy (AFM); Escherichia coli; cell dimensions; bacteria visualization
7.  Linking of Sensor Molecules with Amino Groups to Amino-Functionalized AFM Tips 
Bioconjugate Chemistry  2011;22(6):1239-1248.
The measuring tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM) can be upgraded to a specific biosensor by attaching one or a few biomolecules to the apex of the tip. The biofunctionalized tip is then used to map cognate target molecules on a sample surface or to study biophysical parameters of interaction with the target molecules. The functionality of tip-bound sensor molecules is greatly enhanced if they are linked via a thin, flexible polymer chain. In a typical scheme of tip functionalization, reactive groups are first generated on the tip surface, a bifunctional cross-linker is then attached with one of its two reactive ends, and finally the probe molecule of interest is coupled to the free end of the cross-linker. Unfortunately, the most popular functional group generated on the tip surface is the amino group, while at the same time, the only useful coupling functions of many biomolecules (such as antibodies) are also NH2 groups. In the past, various tricks or detours were applied to minimize the undesired bivalent reaction of bifunctional linkers with adjacent NH2 groups on the tip surface. In the present study, an uncompromising solution to this problem was found with the help of a new cross-linker (“acetal-PEG-NHS”) which possesses one activated carboxyl group and one acetal-protected benzaldehyde function. The activated carboxyl ensures rapid unilateral attachment to the amino-functionalized tip, and only then is the terminal acetal group converted into the amino-reactive benzaldehyde function by mild treatment (1% citric acid, 1–10 min) which does not harm the AFM tip. As an exception, AFM tips with magnetic coating become demagnetized in 1% citric acid. This problem was solved by deprotecting the acetal group before coupling the PEG linker to the AFM tip. Bivalent binding of the corresponding linker (“aldehyde-PEG-NHS”) to adjacent NH2 groups on the tip was largely suppressed by high linker concentrations. In this way, magnetic AFM tips could be functionalized with an ethylene diamine derivative of ATP which showed specific interaction with mitochondrial uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) that had been purified and reconstituted in a mica-supported planar lipid bilayer.
PMCID: PMC3115690  PMID: 21542606
8.  The Intrinsic Resolution Limit in the Atomic Force Microscope: Implications for Heights of Nano-Scale Features 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23821.
Accurate mechanical characterization by the atomic force microscope at the highest spatial resolution requires that topography is deconvoluted from indentation. The measured height of nanoscale features in the atomic force microscope (AFM) is almost always smaller than the true value, which is often explained away as sample deformation, the formation of salt deposits and/or dehydration. We show that the real height of nano-objects cannot be obtained directly: a result arising as a consequence of the local probe-sample geometry.
Methods and Findings
We have modeled the tip-surface-sample interaction as the sum of the interaction between the tip and the surface and the tip and the sample. We find that the dynamics of the AFM cannot differentiate between differences in force resulting from 1) the chemical and/or mechanical characteristics of the surface or 2) a step in topography due to the size of the sample; once the size of a feature becomes smaller than the effective area of interaction between the AFM tip and sample, the measured height is compromised. This general result is a major contributor to loss of height and can amount to up to ∼90% for nanoscale features. In particular, these very large values in height loss may occur even when there is no sample deformation, and, more generally, height loss does not correlate with sample deformation. DNA and IgG antibodies have been used as model samples where experimental height measurements are shown to closely match the predicted phenomena.
Being able to measure the true height of single nanoscale features is paramount in many nanotechnology applications since phenomena and properties in the nanoscale critically depend on dimensions. Our approach allows accurate predictions for the true height of nanoscale objects and will lead to reliable mechanical characterization at the highest spatial resolution.
PMCID: PMC3166059  PMID: 21912608
9.  Ultrastable Atomic Force Microscopy: Atomic-Scale Stability and Registration in Ambient Conditions 
Nano letters  2009;9(4):1451-1456.
Instrumental drift in atomic force microscopy (AFM) remains a critical, largely unaddressed issue that limits tip–sample stability, registration, and the signal-to-noise ratio during imaging. By scattering a laser off the apex of a commercial AFM tip, we locally measured and thereby actively controlled its three-dimensional position above a sample surface to <40 pm (Δf = 0.01–10 Hz) in air at room temperature. With this enhanced stability, we overcame the traditional need to scan rapidly while imaging and achieved a 5-fold increase in the image signal-to-noise ratio. Finally, we demonstrated atomic-scale (~100 pm) tip–sample stability and registration over tens of minutes with a series of AFM images on transparent substrates. The stabilization technique requires low laser power (<1 mW), imparts a minimal perturbation upon the cantilever, and is independent of the tip–sample interaction. This work extends atomic-scale tip–sample control, previously restricted to cryogenic temperatures and ultrahigh vacuum, to a wide range of perturbative operating environments.
PMCID: PMC2953871  PMID: 19351191
10.  High-resolution dynamic atomic force microscopy in liquids with different feedback architectures 
The recent achievement of atomic resolution with dynamic atomic force microscopy (dAFM) [Fukuma et al., Appl. Phys. Lett. 2005, 87, 034101], where quality factors of the oscillating probe are inherently low, challenges some accepted beliefs concerning sensitivity and resolution in dAFM imaging modes. Through analysis and experiment we study the performance metrics for high-resolution imaging with dAFM in liquid media with amplitude modulation (AM), frequency modulation (FM) and drive-amplitude modulation (DAM) imaging modes. We find that while the quality factors of dAFM probes may deviate by several orders of magnitude between vacuum and liquid media, their sensitivity to tip–sample forces can be remarkable similar. Furthermore, the reduction in noncontact forces and quality factors in liquids diminishes the role of feedback control in achieving high-resolution images. The theoretical findings are supported by atomic-resolution images of mica in water acquired with AM, FM and DAM under similar operating conditions.
PMCID: PMC3596120  PMID: 23503468
atomic force microscopy; dAFM; high-resolution; liquids
11.  bOptimizing atomic force microscopy for characterization of diamond-protein interfaces 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2011;6(1):337.
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) in contact mode and tapping mode is employed for high resolution studies of soft organic molecules (fetal bovine serum proteins) on hard inorganic diamond substrates in solution and air. Various effects in morphology and phase measurements related to the cantilever spring constant, amplitude of tip oscillations, surface approach, tip shape and condition are demonstrated and discussed based on the proposed schematic models. We show that both diamond and proteins can be mechanically modified by Si AFM cantilever. We propose how to choose suitable cantilever type, optimize scanning parameters, recognize and minimize various artifacts, and obtain reliable AFM data both in solution and in air to reveal microscopic characteristics of protein-diamond interfaces. We also suggest that monocrystalline diamond is well defined substrate that can be applicable for fundamental studies of molecules on surfaces in general.
PMCID: PMC3211425  PMID: 21711846
12.  The role of surface corrugation and tip oscillation in single-molecule manipulation with a non-contact atomic force microscope 
Scanning probe microscopy (SPM) plays an important role in the investigation of molecular adsorption. The possibility to probe the molecule–surface interaction while tuning its strength through SPM tip-induced single-molecule manipulation has particularly promising potential to yield new insights. We recently reported experiments, in which 3,4,9,10-perylene-tetracarboxylic-dianhydride (PTCDA) molecules were lifted with a qPlus-sensor and analyzed these experiments by using force-field simulations. Irrespective of the good agreement between the experiment and those simulations, systematic inconsistencies remained that we attribute to effects omitted from the initial model. Here we develop a more realistic simulation of single-molecule manipulation by non-contact AFM that includes the atomic surface corrugation, the tip elasticity, and the tip oscillation amplitude. In short, we simulate a full tip oscillation cycle at each step of the manipulation process and calculate the frequency shift by solving the equation of motion of the tip. The new model correctly reproduces previously unexplained key features of the experiment, and facilitates a better understanding of the mechanics of single-molecular junctions. Our simulations reveal that the surface corrugation adds a positive frequency shift to the measurement that generates an apparent repulsive force. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the scatter observed in the experimental data points is related to the sliding of the molecule across the surface.
PMCID: PMC3943512  PMID: 24605287
atomic force microscopy (AFM); force-field model; 3,4,9,10-perylene-tetracarboxylic-dianhydride (PTCDA); qPlus; single-molecule manipulation
13.  Research on Double-Probe, Double- and Triple-Tip Effects during Atomic Force Microscopy Scanning 
Scanning  2004;26(4):155-161.
Information obtained by atomic force microscopy (AFM) depends strongly on the kind of probe or tip used; therefore, probe and tip effects have to be taken into account when verifying or interpreting the data acquired. In many papers, double-tip effects have been mentioned while other research was done; however, there are only a few special reports on double- or triple-tip effects, especially double-probe effects. In our paper, metaphase chromosomes of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells, aggregates of pectin molecules, membrane surface of mouse embryonic stem cells, and R-phycoerythrin-conjugated immunoglobulin G complexes were imaged by AFM with high-quality probes, double-probe cantilever, and double-tip and triple-tip probes, respectively, in order to determine double-probe, double-tip, and triple-tip effects during AFM scanning. We found that the double-probe, double-tip, and triple-tip effects share the same principle, and that these effects correlate with distance and height differences between probes of double-probe cantilever or tips of double-tip or multiple-tip probes. Since many other factors influence double-probe or double-tip effects, more in-depth studies must be undertaken. However, this initial research will make all users of AFM techniques aware of double-probe and double-tip or triple-tip effects during AFM scanning and aid in verifying or interpreting the data acquired.
PMCID: PMC2863299  PMID: 15473266
double-probe effects; double-tip effects; triple-tip effects; atomic force microscopy; tip artifacts; chromosome; pectin; phycoerythrin conjugated immunoglobulin G
14.  Modeling and measuring the elastic properties of an archaeal surface, the sheath of Methanospirillum hungatei, and the implication of methane production. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1996;178(11):3106-3112.
We describe a technique for probing the elastic properties of biological membranes by using an atomic force microscope (AFM) tip to press the biological material into a groove in a solid surface. A simple model is developed to relate the applied force and observed depression distance to the elastic modulus of the material. A measurement on the proteinaceous sheath of the archaebacterium Methanospirillum hungatei GP1 gave a Young's modulus of 2 x 10(10) to 4 x 10(10) N/m2. The measurements suggested that the maximum sustainable tension in the sheath was 3.5 to 5 N/m. This finding implied a maximum possible internal pressure for the bacterium of between 300 and 400 atm. Since the cell membrane and S-layer (wall) which surround each cell should be freely permeable to methane and since we demonstrate that the sheath undergoes creep (expansion) with pressure increase, it is possible that the sheath acts as a pressure regulator by stretching, allowing the gas to escape only after a certain pressure is reached. This creep would increase the permeability of the sheath to diffusible substances.
PMCID: PMC178059  PMID: 8655487
15.  Variation of Surface Charge along the Surface of Wool Fibers Assessed by High-Resolution Force Spectroscopy 
In this study, we have mapped the surface charge of wool fibers using chemically specific high-resolution force spectroscopy in order to better understand the dispersion of amino acids in relation to fiber morphology. The inter-surface forces between standard atomic force microscopy (AFM) probe tips (tip radius ~ 50 nm) functionalized with COOH and NH3 terminated alkanethiol self assembling monolayers and the wool surface were used to estimate the surface charge per unit area using linear Poisson-Boltzmann-based electrostatic double layer theory. The positional measurement of nano-scale surface charge showed a correlation between the surface charge and fiber morphology, indicated that basic amino acids are located near the scale edges.
PMCID: PMC3159188  PMID: 21866220
16.  Interaction between Pheromone and Its Receptor of the Fission Yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe Examined by a Force Spectroscopy Study 
Interaction between P-factor, a peptide pheromone composed of 23 amino acid residues, and its pheromone receptor, Mam2, on the cell surface of the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe was examined by an atomic force microscope (AFM). An AFM tip was modified with P-factor derivatives to perform force curve measurements. The specific interaction force between P-factor and Mam2 was calculated to be around 120 pN at a probe speed of 1.74 μm/s. When the AFM tip was modified with truncated P-factor derivative lacking C-terminal Leu, the specific interaction between the tip and the cell surface was not observed. These results were also confirmed with an assay system using a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter gene to monitor the activation level of signal transduction following the interaction of Mam2 with P-factor.
PMCID: PMC3303674  PMID: 22500108
17.  The Influence of Physical and Physiological Cues on Atomic Force Microscopy-Based Cell Stiffness Assessment 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77384.
Atomic force microscopy provides a novel technique for differentiating the mechanical properties of various cell types. Cell elasticity is abundantly used to represent the structural strength of cells in different conditions. In this study, we are interested in whether physical or physiological cues affect cell elasticity in Atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based assessments. The physical cues include the geometry of the AFM tips, the indenting force and the operating temperature of the AFM. All of these cues show a significant influence on the cell elasticity assessment. Sharp AFM tips create a two-fold increase in the value of the effective Young’s modulus (Eeff) relative to that of the blunt tips. Higher indenting force at the same loading rate generates higher estimated cell elasticity. Increasing the operation temperature of the AFM leads to decreases in the cell stiffness because the structure of actin filaments becomes disorganized. The physiological cues include the presence of fetal bovine serum or extracellular matrix-coated surfaces, the culture passage number, and the culture density. Both fetal bovine serum and the extracellular matrix are critical for cells to maintain the integrity of actin filaments and consequently exhibit higher elasticity. Unlike primary cells, mouse kidney progenitor cells can be passaged and maintain their morphology and elasticity for a very long period without a senescence phenotype. Finally, cell elasticity increases with increasing culture density only in MDCK epithelial cells. In summary, for researchers who use AFM to assess cell elasticity, our results provide basic and significant information about the suitable selection of physical and physiological cues.
PMCID: PMC3806741  PMID: 24194882
18.  Atomic force microscopy: a powerful tool for high-resolution imaging of spermatozoa 
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has emerged as the only technique capable of real-time imaging of the surface of a living cell at nano-resolution. Since AFM provides the advantage of directly observing living biological cells in their native environment, this technique has found many applications in pharmacology, biotechnology, microbiology, structural and molecular biology, genetics and other biology-related fields. AFM has also proved to be a valuable tool for reproductive biologists. An exhaustive review on the various applications of AFM to sperm cells is presented. AFM has been extensively applied for determining the structural and topological features of spermatozoa. Unstained, unfixed spermatozoa in their natural physiological surroundings can be imaged by this technique which provides valuable information about the morphological and pathological defects in sperm cells as three-dimensional images with precise topographical details. Sperm head defects and the acrosome at the tip of the head responsible for fertilization, can be examined and correlated with the lack of functional integrity of the cell. Considerable amount of work is reported on the structural details of the highly condensed chromatin in sperm head using AFM. Detailed information on 3D topographical images of spermatozoa acquired by AFM is expected to provide a better understanding of various reproductive pathways which, in turn, can facilitate improved infertility management and/or contraceptive development.
PMCID: PMC1253532  PMID: 16188038
19.  Modeling noncontact atomic force microscopy resolution on corrugated surfaces 
Key developments in NC-AFM have generally involved atomically flat crystalline surfaces. However, many surfaces of technological interest are not atomically flat. We discuss the experimental difficulties in obtaining high-resolution images of rough surfaces, with amorphous SiO2 as a specific case. We develop a quasi-1-D minimal model for noncontact atomic force microscopy, based on van der Waals interactions between a spherical tip and the surface, explicitly accounting for the corrugated substrate (modeled as a sinusoid). The model results show an attenuation of the topographic contours by ~30% for tip distances within 5 Å of the surface. Results also indicate a deviation from the Hamaker force law for a sphere interacting with a flat surface.
PMCID: PMC3323912  PMID: 22496996
graphene; model; noncontact atomic force microscopy; SiO2; van der Waals
20.  Characterization of single 1.8-nm Au nanoparticle attachments on AFM tips for single sub-4-nm object pickup 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2013;8(1):482.
This paper presents a novel method for the attachment of a 1.8-nm Au nanoparticle (Au-NP) to the tip of an atomic force microscopy (AFM) probe through the application of a current-limited bias voltage. The resulting probe is capable of picking up individual objects at the sub-4-nm scale. We also discuss the mechanisms involved in the attachment of the Au-NP to the very apex of an AFM probe tip. The Au-NP-modified AFM tips were used to pick up individual 4-nm quantum dots (QDs) using a chemically functionalized method. Single QD blinking was reduced considerably on the Au-NP-modified AFM tip. The resulting AFM tips present an excellent platform for the manipulation of single protein molecules in the study of single protein-protein interactions.
PMCID: PMC3835868  PMID: 24237663
Au nanoparticle; AFM; Quantum dots; Blinking
21.  Apertureless scanning near-field optical microscopy of sparsely labeled tobacco mosaic viruses and the intermediate filament desmin 
Both fluorescence imaging and atomic force microscopy (AFM) are highly versatile and extensively used in applications ranging from nanotechnology to life sciences. In fluorescence microscopy luminescent dyes serve as position markers. Moreover, they can be used as active reporters of their local vicinity. The dipolar coupling of the tip with the incident light and the fluorophore give rise to a local field and fluorescence enhancement. AFM topographic imaging allows for resolutions down to the atomic scale. It can be operated in vacuum, under ambient conditions and in liquids. This makes it ideal for the investigation of a wide range of different samples. Furthermore an illuminated AFM cantilever tip apex exposes strongly confined non-propagating electromagnetic fields that can serve as a coupling agent for single dye molecules. Thus, combining both techniques by means of apertureless scanning near-field optical microscopy (aSNOM) enables concurrent high resolution topography and fluorescence imaging. Commonly, among the various (apertureless) SNOM approaches metallic or metallized probes are used. Here, we report on our custom-built aSNOM setup, which uses commercially available monolithic silicon AFM cantilevers. The field enhancement confined to the tip apex facilitates an optical resolution down to 20 nm. Furthermore, the use of standard mass-produced AFM cantilevers spares elaborate probe production or modification processes. We investigated tobacco mosaic viruses and the intermediate filament protein desmin. Both are mixed complexes of building blocks, which are fluorescently labeled to a low degree. The simultaneous recording of topography and fluorescence data allows for the exact localization of distinct building blocks within the superordinate structures.
PMCID: PMC3778390  PMID: 24062977
apertureless scanning near-field optical microscope; atomic force microscopy; fluorescence microscopy
22.  Firm but Slippery Attachment of Deinococcus geothermalis 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(9):2473-2480.
Bacterial biofilms impair the operation of many industrial processes. Deinococcus geothermalis is efficient primary biofilm former in paper machine water, functioning as an adhesion platform for secondary biofilm bacteria. It produces thick biofilms on various abiotic surfaces, but the mechanism of attachment is not known. High-resolution field-emission scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy (AFM) showed peritrichous adhesion threads mediating the attachment of D. geothermalis E50051 to stainless steel and glass surfaces and cell-to-cell attachment, irrespective of the growth medium. Extensive slime matrix was absent from the D. geothermalis E50051 biofilms. AFM of the attached cells revealed regions on the cell surface with different topography, viscoelasticity, and adhesiveness, possibly representing different surface layers that were patchily exposed. We used oscillating probe techniques to keep the tip-biofilm interactions as small as possible. In spite of this, AFM imaging of living D. geothermalis E50051 biofilms in water resulted in repositioning but not in detachment of the surface-attached cells. The irreversibly attached cells did not detach when pushed with a glass capillary but escaped the mechanical force by sliding along the surface. Air drying eliminated the flexibility of attachment, but it resumed after reimmersion in water. Biofilms were evaluated for their strength of attachment. D. geothermalis E50051 persisted 1 h of washing with 0.2% NaOH or 0.5% sodium dodecyl sulfate, in contrast to biofilms of Burkholderia cepacia F28L1 or the well-characterized biofilm former Staphylococcus epidermidis O-47. Deinococcus radiodurans strain DSM 20539T also formed tenacious biofilms. This paper shows that D. geothermalis has firm but laterally slippery attachment not reported before for a nonmotile species.
PMCID: PMC135001  PMID: 11948162
23.  An Ultrastable AFM for Biophysics 
Single-molecule force spectroscopy provides insights into the energetics and unfolding of individual proteins and nucleic acid structures. Using the techniques described below, we can now study the mechanical unfolding and re-folding of bacteriorhodopsin (BR), a model membrane protein, in its native lipid bi-layer. In a typical force spectroscopy experiment, an AFM tip is coupled to a surface-adsorbed protein by pressing the tip into it. Force-extension curves are then generated by retracting the tip at a constant velocity using a piezoelectric (PZT) stage. Force is measured by cantilever deflection. Extension, or more precisely tip-sample separation, is deduced from the PZT stage position used to control the vertical tip position. Thus, this deduced extension is sensitive to the vertical mechanical drift of the AFM assembly (∼10 nm/min). We developed an ultrastable AFM in which the tip and the sample positions are independently measured by, and stabilized with respect to, a pair of laser foci in three dimensions. These lasers establish a local reference frame that is insensitive to long-term mechanical drift of the AFM assembly. The resulting AFM was 100-fold more stable than prior state of the art and tip position was controlled to 0.3Å in 3D. We have extended the ultrastable AFM into liquid and can mechanically unfold proteins at slow, but actively, stabilized pulling velocities (2.5 Å/s). We can also stop pulling altogether and hold the molecule at constant force while independently measuring tip-sample separation. I will illustrate the instrument's potential with preliminary force spectroscopy results on bacteriorhodopsin in which we observed the folding and unfolding of a membrane protein into and out of its native membrane over hundreds of seconds. Finally, I will discuss technical improvements to our ultra-stable AFM to facilitate finding sparsely distributed unlabeled biological samples.
PMCID: PMC3630666
24.  Nanomechanical properties of α-synuclein amyloid fibrils: a comparative study by nanoindentation, harmonic force microscopy, and Peakforce QNM 
Nanoscale Research Letters  2011;6(1):270.
We report on the use of three different atomic force spectroscopy modalities to determine the nanomechanical properties of amyloid fibrils of the human α-synuclein protein. α-Synuclein forms fibrillar nanostructures of approximately 10 nm diameter and lengths ranging from 100 nm to several microns, which have been associated with Parkinson's disease. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has been used to image the morphology of these protein fibrils deposited on a flat surface. For nanomechanical measurements, we used single-point nanoindentation, in which the AFM tip as the indenter is moved vertically to the fibril surface and back while the force is being recorded. We also used two recently developed AFM surface property mapping techniques: Harmonic force microscopy (HarmoniX) and Peakforce QNM. These modalities allow extraction of mechanical parameters of the surface with a lateral resolution and speed comparable to tapping-mode AFM imaging. Based on this phenomenological study, the elastic moduli of the α-synuclein fibrils determined using these three different modalities are within the range 1.3-2.1 GPa. We discuss the relative merits of these three methods for the determination of the elastic properties of protein fibrils, particularly considering the differences and difficulties of each method.
PMCID: PMC3211334  PMID: 21711775
25.  Immobilization of different biomolecules by atomic force microscopy 
Micrometer resolution placement and immobilization of probe molecules is an important step in the preparation of biochips and a wide range of lab-on-chip systems. Most known methods for such a deposition of several different substances are costly and only suitable for a limited number of probes. In this article we present a flexible procedure for simultaneous spatially controlled immobilization of functional biomolecules by molecular ink lithography.
For the bottom-up fabrication of surface bound nanostructures a universal method is presented that allows the immobilization of different types of biomolecules with micrometer resolution. A supporting surface is biotinylated and streptavidin molecules are deposited with an AFM (atomic force microscope) tip at distinct positions. Subsequent incubation with a biotinylated molecule species leads to binding only at these positions. After washing streptavidin is deposited a second time with the same AFM tip and then a second biotinylated molecule species is coupled by incubation. This procedure can be repeated several times. Here we show how to immobilize different types of biomolecules in an arbitrary arrangement whereas most common methods can deposit only one type of molecules. The presented method works on transparent as well as on opaque substrates. The spatial resolution is better than 400 nm and is limited only by the AFM's positional accuracy after repeated z-cycles since all steps are performed in situ without moving the supporting surface. The principle is demonstrated by hybridization to different immobilized DNA oligomers and was validated by fluorescence microscopy.
The immobilization of different types of biomolecules in high-density microarrays is a challenging task for biotechnology. The method presented here not only allows for the deposition of DNA at submicrometer resolution but also for proteins and other molecules of biological relevance that can be coupled to biotin.
PMCID: PMC2881053  PMID: 20478017

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