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Langmuir. 2005 Jul 5;21(14):6508-20.

Relationship between interfacial forces measured by colloid-probe atomic force microscopy and protein resistance of poly(ethylene glycol)-grafted poly(L-lysine) adlayers on niobia surfaces.

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  • 1Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, Department of Materials, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Hönggerberg, Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse 10, CH-8093 Zürich, Switzerland.


Adsorbed layers of "comb-type" copolymers consisting of PEG chains grafted onto a poly(l-lysine) (PLL) backbone on niobium oxide substrates were studied by colloid-probe AFM in order to characterize the interfacial forces associated with coatings of varying architectures (PEG/PLL ratios and PEG chain lengths) and their relevance to protein resistance. The steric and electrostatic forces measured varied substantially with the architecture of the PLL-g-PEG copolymers. Varying the ionic strength of the buffer solutions enabled discrimination between electrostatic and steric-entropic contributions to the net interfacial force. For high PEG grafting densities the steric component was most prominent, but at low ionic strengths and high grafting densities, a repulsive electrostatic surface force was also observed; its origin was assigned to the niobia charges beneath the copolymer, as insufficient protonated amine groups in the PLL backbone were available for compensation of the oxide surface charges. For lower grafting densities and lower ionic strengths there was a substantial attractive electrostatic contribution arising from interaction of the electrical double layer arising from the protonated amine groups, with that of the silica probe surface (as under low ionic strength conditions, the electrical double layer was thicker than the PEG layer). For these PLL-g-PEG coatings the net interfacial force can thus be a markedly varying superposition of electrostatic and steric-entropic contributions, depending on various factors. The force curves correlate with protein adsorption data, demonstrating the utility of AFM colloid-probe force measurements for quantitative analysis of surface forces and how they determine interfacial interactions with proteins. Such characterization of the net interfacial forces is essential to elucidate the multiple types of interfacial forces relevant to the interactions between PLL-g-PEG coatings and proteins and to advance interpretation of protein adsorption or repellence beyond the oversimplified steric barrier model; in particular, our data demonstrate the importance of an ionic-strength-dependent minimum PEG layer thickness to screen the electrostatic interactions of charged interfaces.

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