Molecular force spectroscopy has become a powerful tool to study how mechanics regulates biology, especially the mechanical regulation of molecular interactions and its impact on cellular functions. This force-driven methodology has uncovered a wealth of new information of the physical chemistry of molecular bonds for various biological systems. The new concepts, qualitative and quantitative measures describing bond behavior under force, and structural bases underlying these phenomena have substantially advanced our fundamental understanding of the inner workings of biological systems from the nanoscale (molecule) to the microscale (cell), elucidated basic molecular mechanisms of a wide range of important biological processes, and provided opportunities for engineering applications. Here, we review major force spectroscopic assays, conceptual developments of mechanically regulated kinetics of molecular interactions, and their biological relevance. We also present current challenges and highlight future directions.
Keywords: binding kinetics; catch bond; cell adhesion; cyclic mechanical reinforcement; force clamp; force ramp.