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J Cell Physiol. 2013 Oct;228(10):1949-55. doi: 10.1002/jcp.24363.

Atomic force microscopy: High resolution dynamic imaging of cellular and molecular structure in health and disease.

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Department of Pathology and Microscopy Imaging Center, College of Medicine, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA.


The atomic force microscope (AFM), invented in 1986, and a member of the scanning probe family of microscopes, offers the unprecedented ability to image biological samples unfixed and in a hydrated environment at high resolution. This opens the possibility to investigate biological mechanisms temporally in a heretofore unattainable resolution. We have used AFM to investigate: (1) fundamental issues in cell biology (secretion) and, (2) the pathological basis of a human thrombotic disease, the antiphospholipid syndrome (APS). These studies have incorporated the imaging of live cells at nanometer resolution, leading to discovery of the "porosome," the universal secretory portal in cells, and a molecular understanding of membrane fusion from imaging the interaction and assembly of proteins between opposing lipid membranes. Similarly, the development of an in vitro simulacrum for investigating the molecular interactions between proteins and lipids has helped define an etiological explanation for APS. The prime importance of AFM in the success of these investigations will be presented in this manuscript, as well as a discussion of the limitations of this technique for the study of biomedical samples.

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