Direct immobilization of avidin protein on AFM tip functionalized by acrylic acid vapor at RF plasma


  • This article is published as part of the AFM BioMed Conference on Life Sciences and Medicine, Paris 2011 of the Journal of Molecular Recognition, edited by Simon Scheuring, Pierre Parot and Jean-Luc Pellequer.

Lilian T. Costa, Instituto de Biofísica, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro/Polo Xerém, Estrada de Xerém, 27 (complexo do Tamoio) – Xerém, 25245-390 Duque de Caxias, RJ, Brazil.



The atomic force microscopy (AFM) has been used as a force sensor to measure unbinding forces of single bound complexes in the nanonewton and piconewton range. Force spectroscopy measurements can be applied to study both intermolecular and intramolecular interactions of complex biological and synthetic macromolecules. Although the AFM has been extensively used as a nano force sensor, the commercially available cantilever is limited to silicon and silicon nitride. Those materials reduce the adhesion sensitivity with specific surface and/or molecule. Here, we functionalized the AFM tip with carboxylic groups by applying acrylic acid (AA) vapor at radio frequency plasma treatment at 100 W for 5 min. This method provides a remarkable sensitivity enhancement on the functional group interaction specificity. The functionalized tip was characterized by scanning electron microscopy. The electron beam high resolution images have not shown significant tip sharpness modification. Silicon wafers (1 0 0)—no treated and functionalized by AA plasma treatment—were characterized by Auger electron spectroscopy to elucidate the silicon surface sputtering and demonstrate functionalization. The Fourier transform-infrared spectroscopy spectrum shows a high absorbance of avidin protein over the silicon surface functionalized by AA plasma treatment.We carried out force spectroscopy assay to measure the unbinding force between the well-established pair biotin–avidin. At pulling speed of 2 µm/s, we measured the unbinding force of 106 ± 23 pN, which is in good agreement with the literature, demonstrating the effectiveness of the tip functionalization by AA plasma treatment in biological studies. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.