Mechanism of KCl enhancement in detection of nonionic polymers by nanopore sensors

Biophys J. 2008 Dec;95(11):5186-92. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.108.140814. Epub 2008 Sep 19.


The mechanisms of KCl-induced enhancement in identification of individual molecules of poly(ethylene glycol) using solitary alpha-hemolysin nanoscale pores are described. The interaction of single molecules with the nanopore causes changes in the ionic current flowing through the pore. We show that the on-rate constant of the process is several hundred times larger and that the off-rate is several hundred times smaller in 4 M KCl than in 1 M KCl. These shifts dramatically improve detection and make single molecule identification feasible. KCl also changes the solubility of poly(ethylene glycol) by the same order of magnitude as it changes the rate constants. In addition, the polymer-nanopore interaction is determined to be a strong non-monotonic function of voltage, indicating that the flexible, nonionic poly(ethylene glycol) acts as a charged molecule. Therefore, salting-out and Coulombic interactions are responsible for the KCl-induced enhancement. These results will advance the development of devices with sensor elements based on single nanopores.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Toxins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Hemolysin Proteins / chemistry
  • Hemolysin Proteins / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Nanotechnology*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / analysis*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry
  • Polyethylene Glycols / metabolism
  • Porosity
  • Potassium Chloride / pharmacology*
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Thermodynamics
  • Time Factors


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Hemolysin Proteins
  • staphylococcal alpha-toxin
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Potassium Chloride