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Langmuir. 2013 Nov 26;29(47):14622-30. doi: 10.1021/la4039667. Epub 2013 Nov 15.

Application of catalyst-free click reactions in attaching affinity molecules to tips of atomic force microscopy for detection of protein biomarkers.

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Biodesign Institute, ‡Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and §Department of Physics, Arizona State University , Tempe, Arizona 85287, United States.


Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has been extensively used in studies of biological interactions. Particularly, AFM based force spectroscopy and recognition imaging can sense biomolecules on a single molecule level, having great potential to become a tool for molecular diagnostics in clinics. These techniques, however, require affinity molecules to be attached to AFM tips in order to specifically detect their targets. The attachment chemistry currently used on silicon tips involves multiple steps of reactions and moisture sensitive chemicals, such as (3-aminopropyl)triethoxysilane (APTES) and N-hydroxysuccinimide (NHS) ester, making the process difficult to operate in aqueous solutions. In the present study, we have developed a user-friendly protocol to functionalize the AFM tips with affinity molecules. A key feature of it is that all reactions are carried out in aqueous solutions. In summary, we first synthesized a molecular anchor composed of cyclooctyne and silatrane for introduction of a chemically reactive function to AFM tips and a bifunctional polyethylene glycol linker that harnesses two orthogonal click reactions, copper free alkyne-azide cycloaddition and thiol-vinylsulfone Michael addition, for attaching affinity molecules to AFM tips. The attachment chemistry was then validated by attaching antithrombin DNA aptamers and cyclo-RGD peptides to silicon nitride (SiN) tips, respectively, and measuring forces of unbinding these affinity molecules from their protein cognates human α-thrombin and human α5β1-integrin immobilized on mica surfaces. In turn, we used the same attachment chemistry to functionalize silicon tips with the same affinity molecules for AFM based recognition imaging, showing that the disease-relevant biomarkers such as α-thrombin and α5β1-integrin can be detected with high sensitivity and specificity by the single molecule technique. These studies demonstrate the feasibility of our attachment chemistry for the use in functionalization of AFM tips with affinity molecules.

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