Journal article

Can Dissipative Properties of Single Molecules Be Extracted from a Force Spectroscopy Experiment?

We performed dynamic force spectroscopy of single dextran and titin 127 molecules using small-amplitude and low-frequency (40-240 Hz) dithering of an atomic force microscope tip excited by a sine wave voltage fed onto the tip-carrying piezo. We show that for such low-frequency dithering experiments, recorded phase information can be unambiguously interpreted within the framework of a transparent theoretical model that starts from a well-known partial differential equation to describe the dithering of an atomic force microscope cantilever and a single molecule attached to its end system, uses an appropriate set of initial and boundary conditions, and does not exploit any implicit suggestions. We conclude that the observed phase (dissipation) signal is due completely to the dissipation related to the dithering of the cantilever itself (i.e., to the change of boundary conditions in the course of stretching). For both cases, only the upper bound of the dissipation of a single molecule has been established as not exceeding 3.10(-7) kg/s. We compare our results with previously reported measurements of the viscoelastic properties of single molecules, and we emphasize that extreme caution must be taken in distinguishing between the dissipation related to the stretched molecule and the dissipation that originates from the viscous damping of the dithered cantilever. We also present the results of an amplitude channel data analysis, which reveal that the typical values of the spring constant of a 127 molecule at the moment of module unfolding are equal to 4 +/- 1.5 mN/m, and the typical values of the spring constant of dextran at the moment of chair-boat transition are equal to 30 - 50 mN/m.


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