Material properties of viral nanocages explored by atomic force microscopy

M.G.M. van Rosmalen, W.H. Roos, G.J.L. Wuite

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Single-particle nanoindentation by atomic force microscopy (AFM) is an emergent technique to characterize the material properties of nano-sized proteinaceous systems. AFM uses a very small tip attached to a cantilever to scan the surface of the substrate. As a result of the sensitive feedback loop of AFM, the force applied by the tip on the substrate during scanning can be controlled and monitored. By accurately controlling this scanning force, topographical maps of fragile substrates can be acquired to study the morphology of the substrate. In addition, mechanical properties of the substrate like stiffness and breaking point can be determined by using the force spectroscopy capability of AFM. Here we discuss basics of AFM operation and how this technique is used to determine the structure and mechanical properties of protein nanocages, in particular viral particles. Knowledge of morphology as well as mechanical properties is essential for understanding viral life cycles, including genome packaging, capsid maturation, and uncoating, but also contributes to the development of diagnostics, vaccines, imaging modalities, and targeted therapeutic devices based on viruslike particles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-137
JournalMethods in Molecular Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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