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Q Rev Biophys. 2016 Jan;49:e3. Epub 2015 Oct 26.

Decoding the mechanical fingerprints of biomolecules.

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Department of Physics,University of California at San Diego,La Jolla,CA,USA.


The capacity of biological macromolecules to act as exceedingly sophisticated and highly efficient cellular machines - switches, assembly factors, pumps, or motors - is realized through their conformational transitions, that is, their folding into distinct shapes and selective binding to other molecules. Conformational transitions can be induced, monitored, and manipulated by pulling individual macromolecules apart with an applied force. Pulling experiments reveal, for a given biomolecule, the relationship between applied force and molecular extension. Distinct signatures in the force-extension relationship identify a given biomolecule and thus serve as the molecule's 'mechanical fingerprints'. But, how can these fingerprints be decoded to uncover the energy barriers crossed by the molecule in the course of its conformational transition, as well as the associated timescales? This review summarizes a powerful class of approaches to interpreting single-molecule force spectroscopy measurements - namely, analytically tractable approaches. On the fundamental side, analytical theories have the power to reveal the unifying principles underneath the bewildering diversity of biomolecules and their behaviors. On the practical side, analytical expressions that result from these theories are particularly well suited for a direct fit to experimental data, yielding the important parameters that govern biological processes at the molecular level.


Single molecule force spectroscopy; activation energy barrier; energy landscape; transition rate


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