Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is an extremely powerful tool in the field of bionanotechnology because of its ability to image single molecules and make measurements of molecular interaction forces with piconewton sensitivity. It works in aqueous media, enabling studies of molecular phenomenon taking place under physiological conditions. Samples can be imaged in their near-native state without any further modifications such as staining or tagging. The combination of AFM imaging with the force measurement added a new feature to the AFM technique, that is, molecular recognition imaging. Molecular recognition imaging enables mapping of specific interactions between two molecules (one attached to the AFM tip and the other to the imaging substrate) by generating simultaneous topography and recognition images (TREC). Since its discovery, the recognition imaging technique has been successfully applied to different systems such as antibody-protein, aptamer-protein, peptide-protein, chromatin, antigen-antibody, cells, and so forth. Because the technique is based on specific binding between the ligand and receptor, it has the ability to detect a particular protein in a mixture of proteins or monitor a biological phenomenon in the native physiological state. One key step for recognition imaging technique is the functionalization of the AFM tips (generally, silicon, silicon nitrides, gold, etc.). Several different functionalization methods have been reported in the literature depending on the molecules of interest and the material of the tip. Polyethylene glycol is routinely used to provide flexibility needed for proper binding as a part of the linker that carries the affinity molecule. Recently, a heterofunctional triarm linker has been synthesized and successfully attached with two different affinity molecules. This novel linker, when attached to AFM tip, helped to detect two different proteins simultaneously from a mixture of proteins using a so-called "two-color" recognition image. Biological phenomena in nature often involve multimolecular interactions, and this new linker could be ideal for studying them using AFM recognition imaging. It also has the potential to be used extensively in the diagnostics technique. This Account includes fundamentals behind AFM recognition imaging, a brief discussion on tip functionalization, recent advancements, and future directions and possibilities. (Figure Presented).
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