Measuring receptor/ligand interaction at the single-bond level: experimental and interpretative issues

Ann Biomed Eng. 2002 Mar;30(3):305-14. doi: 10.1114/1.1467923.


There is increased interest in measuring kinetic rates, lifetimes, and rupture forces of single receptor/ligand bonds. Valuable insights have been obtained from previous experiments attempting such measurements. However, it remains difficult to know with sufficient certainty that single bonds were indeed measured. Using exemplifying data, evidence supporting single-bond observation is examined and caveats in the experimental design and data interpretation are identified. Critical issues preventing definitive proof and disproof of single-bond observation include complex binding schemes, multimeric interactions, clustering, and heterogeneous surfaces. It is concluded that no single criterion is sufficient to ensure that single bonds are actually observed. However, a cumulative body of evidence may provide reasonable confidence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / chemistry*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Ligands
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Statistical
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Stochastic Processes


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Cell Surface