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Biophys J. 1999 Feb;76(2):1101-11.

Electrostatically balanced subnanometer imaging of biological specimens by atomic force microscope.

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M.E. Muller-Institute for Microscopic Structural Biology, Biozentrum, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.


To achieve high-resolution topographs of native biological macromolecules in aqueous solution with the atomic force microscope (AFM) interactions between AFM tip and sample need to be considered. Short-range forces produce the submolecular information of high-resolution topographs. In contrast, no significant high-resolution information is provided by the long-range electrostatic double-layer force. However, this force can be adjusted by pH and electrolytes to distribute the force applied to the AFM tip over a large sample area. As demonstrated on fragile biological samples, adjustment of the electrolyte solution results in a local reduction of both vertical and lateral forces between the AFM tip and proteinous substructures. Under such electrostatically balanced conditions, the deformation of the native protein is minimized and the sample surface can be reproducibly contoured at a lateral resolution of 0.6 nm.

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