Atomic Force Microscopy: Determination of Unbinding Force, Off Rate and Energy Barrier for Protein-Ligand Interaction

Micron. 2007;38(5):446-61. doi: 10.1016/j.micron.2006.06.014. Epub 2006 Jul 28.


Recently, atomic force microscopy (AFM) based force measurements have been applied biophysically and clinically to the field of molecular recognition as well as to the evaluation of dynamic parameters for various interactions between proteins and ligands in their native environment. The aim of this review is to describe the use of the AFM to measure the forces that control biological interaction, focusing especially on protein-ligand and protein-protein interaction modes. We first considered the measurements of specific and non-specific unbinding forces which together control protein-ligand interactions. As such, we will look at the theoretical background of AFM force measurement curves for evaluating the unbinding forces of protein-ligand complexes. Three AFM model dynamic parameters developed recently for use in protein-ligand interactions are reviewed: (i) unbinding forces, (ii) off rates, and (iii) binding energies. By reviewing the several techniques developed for measuring forces between biological structures and intermolecular forces in the literature, we show that use of an AFM for these applications provides an excellent tool in terms of spatial resolution and lateral resolution, especially for protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Kinetics
  • Ligands
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / methods*
  • Protein Binding
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Thermodynamics


  • Ligands
  • Proteins