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Abstract

Biomolecules are the building blocks of living organisms and perform the most important functions in a biological process. The aim of biophysics is to understand the biological functions of biomolecules in terms of their structure: structure and function of biomolecules has been an active research for several decades. Despite the evolution and emergence of new investigation techniques during the last 60 years, biological processes still present enormous challenges to our understanding due to the complex biological system spanning a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. An ideal biophysical method should have the capability to observe atomic level structures and dynamics of biological molecules in their physiological environment. It would also permit the visualization of the structures that form throughout the course of conformational changes or chemical reactions, regardless of the time scale. In this thesis, we have investigated two representative biomolecules using the well-defined biophysical methods in terms of behaviour and biophysical properties of biomolecules: Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the Amyloid-β (Aβ) peptide. Many different biophysical and biochemical tools were employed, where atomic force microscopy (AFM) was the primary instrument to observe the behaviour of the biomolecules in physiological conditions as well as the dynamic changes of structure of biomolecules. Moreover, AFM was used to measure the mechanical properties of biomolecules via direct and indirect methods. What is the behaviour of DNA molecules in an electric field? The behaviour of DNA molecules in an electric field is crucial for understanding interactions of DNA with electrically charged membrane that serves as a template for DNA based sensors and microarray applications, particularly under an electric field. Taken together, the ability to deposit a single DNA molecule on the electrode is essential to increase its specificity. To achieve this, we optimized the operational conditions in order to control a single DNA molecule adsorbing at +300 mV of potential and desorbing to/from the electrode at -25 mV of potential. Simultaneously dynamic imaging enabled us to analyse its morphological behaviour using real-time Electrochemical AFM (EC-AFM) in aqueous conditions. What is the molecular mechanism underlying Aβ42-fibrillogenesis and its role in pathogenesis? The molecular mechanism underlying Aβ42-fibrillogenesis is essential for defining the key determinant in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. In this thesis, we carried out detailed biophysical studies to elucidate the structural changes associated with different stages of amyloid formation and provided unique perspectives on the molecular and structural basis underling the polymorphism of amyloid fibrils in Alzheimer’s disease. For the first time, we provided direct evidence of the existence of secondary-nucleation sites on the surfaces of Aβ42-fibrils and demonstrated that Aβ42-monomers play a crucial role in determining the structural properties and heterogeneity of the formed fibrils. In addition, real-time observation with in situ AFM was performed to define the mechanisms underlying oligomerization and the formation of protofibrils of Aβ42 in physiological conditions. Investigation of the elastic property of Aβ42 fibrils using two techniques based on the AFM. The self-assembly process of Aβ peptides into highly ordered amyloid fibrils is a crucial phenomenon in the cascade of pathological events that culminates in Alzheimer’s disease. Further, the assessment of the elastic properties of Aβ fibrils has recently attracted a lot of attention due to their potential biological applications. We measured the elastic property of Aβ42-fibrils immobilized on two types of substrate (positively charged mica and hydrophobic highly oriented pyrolytic graphite) and compared their properties using two techniques based on the AFM: Statistical analysis of thermal fluctuations and AFM based nanoindentation. The results from our studies show that the values of Young’s modulus of Aβ42 fibrils from the two substrates were similar (1.8 to 2.0 GPa), however they were different in the statistical analysis of thermal fluctuations (1.4 GPa, 2.3 GPa on mica and highly oriented pyrolytic graphite, respectively). These results imply that the method of thermal fluctuations was based on the shape of fibrils affected by the interaction force between the substrate and the fibrils.

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