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Nanomechanical properties of α-synuclein amyloid fibrils: a comparative study by nanoindentation, harmonic force microscopy, and Peakforce QNM

Kim Sweers*, Kees van der Werf, Martin Bennink and Vinod Subramaniam*

Author Affiliations

Nanobiophysics Group, MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands

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Nanoscale Research Letters 2011, 6:270  doi:10.1186/1556-276X-6-270

Published: 30 March 2011


We report on the use of three different atomic force spectroscopy modalities to determine the nanomechanical properties of amyloid fibrils of the human α-synuclein protein. α-Synuclein forms fibrillar nanostructures of approximately 10 nm diameter and lengths ranging from 100 nm to several microns, which have been associated with Parkinson's disease. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has been used to image the morphology of these protein fibrils deposited on a flat surface. For nanomechanical measurements, we used single-point nanoindentation, in which the AFM tip as the indenter is moved vertically to the fibril surface and back while the force is being recorded. We also used two recently developed AFM surface property mapping techniques: Harmonic force microscopy (HarmoniX) and Peakforce QNM. These modalities allow extraction of mechanical parameters of the surface with a lateral resolution and speed comparable to tapping-mode AFM imaging. Based on this phenomenological study, the elastic moduli of the α-synuclein fibrils determined using these three different modalities are within the range 1.3-2.1 GPa. We discuss the relative merits of these three methods for the determination of the elastic properties of protein fibrils, particularly considering the differences and difficulties of each method.