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Biophys J. 2008 Dec;95(11):5186-92. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.108.140814. Epub 2008 Sep 19.

Mechanism of KCl enhancement in detection of nonionic polymers by nanopore sensors.

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Department of Biophysics and Radiobiology, Federal University of Pernambuco, Recife, PE, Brazil.


The mechanisms of KCl-induced enhancement in identification of individual molecules of poly(ethylene glycol) using solitary alpha-hemolysin nanoscale pores are described. The interaction of single molecules with the nanopore causes changes in the ionic current flowing through the pore. We show that the on-rate constant of the process is several hundred times larger and that the off-rate is several hundred times smaller in 4 M KCl than in 1 M KCl. These shifts dramatically improve detection and make single molecule identification feasible. KCl also changes the solubility of poly(ethylene glycol) by the same order of magnitude as it changes the rate constants. In addition, the polymer-nanopore interaction is determined to be a strong non-monotonic function of voltage, indicating that the flexible, nonionic poly(ethylene glycol) acts as a charged molecule. Therefore, salting-out and Coulombic interactions are responsible for the KCl-induced enhancement. These results will advance the development of devices with sensor elements based on single nanopores.

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