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Optimizing 1‑μs-Resolution Single-Molecule Force Spectroscopy on a Commercial Atomic Force Microscope

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journal contribution
posted on 14.10.2015, 00:00 by Devin T. Edwards, Jaevyn K. Faulk, Aric W. Sanders, Matthew S. Bull, Robert Walder, Marc-Andre LeBlanc, Marcelo C. Sousa, Thomas T. Perkins
Atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS) is widely used to mechanically measure the folding and unfolding of proteins. However, the temporal resolution of a standard commercial cantilever is 50–1000 μs, masking rapid transitions and short-lived intermediates. Recently, SMFS with 0.7-μs temporal resolution was achieved using an ultrashort (L = 9 μm) cantilever on a custom-built, high-speed AFM. By micromachining such cantilevers with a focused ion beam, we optimized them for SMFS rather than tapping-mode imaging. To enhance usability and throughput, we detected the modified cantilevers on a commercial AFM retrofitted with a detection laser system featuring a 3-μm circular spot size. Moreover, individual cantilevers were reused over multiple days. The improved capabilities of the modified cantilevers for SMFS were showcased by unfolding a polyprotein, a popular biophysical assay. Specifically, these cantilevers maintained a 1-μs response time while eliminating cantilever ringing (Q ≅ 0.5). We therefore expect such cantilevers, along with the instrumentational improvements to detect them on a commercial AFM, to accelerate high-precision AFM-based SMFS studies.