* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received August 27, 2012
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) can be used to make measurements in vacuum, air, and water. The method is able to gather information about intermolecular interaction forces at the level of single molecules. This review encompasses experimental and theoretical data on the characterization of ligand–receptor interactions by AFM. The advantage of AFM in comparison with other methods developed for the characterization of single molecular interactions is its ability to estimate not only rupture forces, but also thermodynamic and kinetic parameters of the rupture of a complex. The specific features of force spectroscopy applied to ligand–receptor interactions are examined in this review from the stage of the modification of the substrate and the cantilever up to the processing and interpretation of the data. We show the specificities of the statistical analysis of the array of data based on the results of AFM measurements, and we discuss transformation of data into thermodynamic and kinetic parameters (kinetic dissociation constant, Gibbs free energy, enthalpy, and entropy). Particular attention is paid to the study of polyvalent interactions, where the definition of the constants is hampered due to the complex stoichiometry of the reactions.
KEY WORDS: atomic force microscopy, single-molecule force spectroscopy, rupture force, intermolecular interactions, multivalent interactions