Because of its piconewton force sensitivity and nanometer positional accuracy, the atomic force microscope (AFM) has emerged as a powerful tool for exploring the forces and the dynamics of the interaction between individual ligands and receptors, either on isolated molecules or on cellular surfaces. These studies require attaching specific biomolecules or cells on AFM tips and on solid supports and measuring the unbinding forces between the modified surfaces using AFM force spectroscopy. In this review, we describe the current methodology for molecular recognition studies using the AFM, with an emphasis on strategies available for preparing AFM tips and samples, and on procedures for detecting and localizing single molecular recognition events.
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