Novel polymer linkers for single molecule AFM force spectroscopy

Zenghan Tong, Andrey Mikheikin, Alexey Krasnoslobodtsev, Zhengjian Lv, Yuri L. Lyubchenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Flexible polymer linkers play an important role in various imaging and probing techniques that require surface immobilization, including atomic force microscopy (AFM). In AFM force spectroscopy, polymer linkers are necessary for the covalent attachment of molecules of interest to the AFM tip and the surface. The polymer linkers tether the molecules and provide their proper orientation in probing experiments. Additionally, the linkers separate specific interactions from nonspecific short-range adhesion and serve as a reference point for the quantitative analysis of single molecule probing events. In this report, we present our results on the synthesis and testing of a novel polymer linker and the identification of a number of potential applications for its use in AFM force spectroscopy experiments. The synthesis of the linker is based on the well-developed phosphoramidate (PA) chemistry that allows the routine synthesis of linkers with predetermined lengths and PA composition. These linkers are homogeneous in length and can be terminated with various functional groups. PA linkers with different functional groups were synthesized and tested in experimental systems utilizing different immobilization chemistries. We probed interactions between complementary DNA oligonucleotides; DNA and protein complexes formed by the site-specific binding protein SfiI; and interactions between amyloid peptide (Aβ42). The results of the AFM force spectroscopy experiments validated the feasibility of the proposed approach for the linker design and synthesis. Furthermore, the properties of the tether (length, functional groups) can be adjusted to meet the specific requirements for different force spectroscopy experiments and system characteristics, suggesting that it could be used for a large number of various applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-168
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2013


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Force spectroscopy
  • Phoshoramidates
  • Polymeric linker
  • Protein unfolding
  • Protein-DNA complexes
  • Single molecule force spectroscopy
  • Surface chemistry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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