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Gumí-Audenis, B., Giannotti, M. I., (2019). Structural and mechanical characterization of supported model membranes by AFM Biomimetic Lipid Membranes: Fundamentals, Applications, and Commercialization (ed. Kök, Fatma N., Arslan Yildiz, Ahu, Inci, Fatih), Springer International Publishing (Cham, Germany) , 1-27

Several cellular processes, including adhesion, signaling and transcription, endocytosis, and membrane resealing, among others, involve conformational changes such as bending, vesiculation, and tubulation. These mechanisms generally involve membrane separation from the cytoskeleton as well as strong bending, for which the membrane chemical composition and physicochemical properties, often highly localized and dynamic, are key players. The mechanical role of the lipid membrane in force triggered (or sensing) mechanisms in cells is important, and understanding the lipid bilayers’ physical and mechanical properties is essential to comprehend their contribution to the overall membrane. Atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based experimental approaches have been to date very valuable to deepen into these aspects. As a stand-alone, high-resolution imaging technique and force transducer with the possibility to operate in aqueous environment, it defies most other surface instrumentation in ease of use, sensitivity and versatility. In this chapter, we introduce the different AFM-based methods to assess topological and nanomechanical information on model membranes, specifically to supported lipid bilayers (SLBs), including several examples ranging from pure phospholipid homogeneous bilayers to multicomponent and phase-separated SLBs, increasing the bilayer complexity, in the direction of mimicking biological membranes.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Force spectroscopy, Model membranes, Nanomechanics, Supported lipid bilayers


Crespo-Villanueva, Adrián, Gumí-Audenis, Berta, Sanz, Fausto, Artzner, Franck, Mériadec, Cristelle, Rousseau, Florence, Lopez, Christelle, Giannotti, M. I., Guyomarc'h, Fanny, (2018). Casein interaction with lipid membranes: Are the phase state or charge density of the phospholipids affecting protein adsorption? Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Biomembranes , 1860, (12), 2588-2598

Casein micelles are ~200 nm electronegative particles that constitute 80 wt% of the milk proteins. During synthesis in the lactating mammary cells, caseins are thought to interact in the form of ~20 nm assemblies, directly with the biological membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum and/or the Golgi apparatus. However, conditions that drive this interaction are not yet known. Atomic force microscopy imaging and force spectroscopy were used to directly observe the adsorption of casein particles on supported phospholipid bilayers with controlled compositions to vary their phase state and surface charge density, as verified by X-ray diffraction and zetametry. At pH 6.7, the casein particles adsorbed onto bilayer phases with zwitterionic and liquid-disordered phospholipid molecules, but not on phases with anionic or ordered phospholipids. Furthermore, the presence of adsorbed caseins altered the stability of the yet exposed bilayer. Considering their respective compositions and symmetry/asymmetry, these results cast light on the possible interactions of casein assemblies with the organelles’ membranes of the lactating mammary cells.

Keywords: Casein proteins, Phospholipid membrane, Supported lipid bilayer, Atomic force microscopy


Gumí-Audenis, Berta, Costa, Luca, Carlá, Francesco, Comin, Fabio, Sanz, Fausto, Giannotti, M. I., (2016). Structure and nanomechanics of model membranes by atomic force microscopy and spectroscopy: Insights into the role of cholesterol and sphingolipids Membranes , 6, (4), 58

Biological membranes mediate several biological processes that are directly associated with their physical properties but sometimes difficult to evaluate. Supported lipid bilayers (SLBs) are model systems widely used to characterize the structure of biological membranes. Cholesterol (Chol) plays an essential role in the modulation of membrane physical properties. It directly influences the order and mechanical stability of the lipid bilayers, and it is known to laterally segregate in rafts in the outer leaflet of the membrane together with sphingolipids (SLs). Atomic force microscope (AFM) is a powerful tool as it is capable to sense and apply forces with high accuracy, with distance and force resolution at the nanoscale, and in a controlled environment. AFM-based force spectroscopy (AFM-FS) has become a crucial technique to study the nanomechanical stability of SLBs by controlling the liquid media and the temperature variations. In this contribution, we review recent AFM and AFM-FS studies on the effect of Chol on the morphology and mechanical properties of model SLBs, including complex bilayers containing SLs. We also introduce a promising combination of AFM and X-ray (XR) techniques that allows for in situ characterization of dynamic processes, providing structural, morphological, and nanomechanical information

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Force spectroscopy, Lipid membranes, Supported lipid bilayers, Nanomechanics, Cholesterol, Sphingolipids, Membrane structure, XR-AFM combination


Gumí-Audenis, B., Carlà, F., Vitorino, M. V., Panzarella, A., Porcar, L., Boilot, M., Guerber, S., Bernard, P., Rodrigues, M. S., Sanz, F., Giannotti, M. I., Costa, L., (2015). Custom AFM for X-ray beamlines: in situ biological investigations under physiological conditions Journal of Synchrotron Radiation , 22, 1364-1371

A fast atomic force microscope (AFM) has been developed that can be installed as a sample holder for grazing-incidence X-ray experiments at solid/gas or solid/liquid interfaces. It allows a wide range of possible investigations, including soft and biological samples under physiological conditions (hydrated specimens). The structural information obtained using the X-rays is combined with the data gathered with the AFM (morphology and mechanical properties), providing a unique characterization of the specimen and its dynamics in situ during an experiment. In this work, lipid monolayers and bilayers in air or liquid environment have been investigated by means of AFM, both with imaging and force spectroscopy, and X-ray reflectivity. In addition, this combination allows the radiation damage induced by the beam on the sample to be studied, as has been observed on DOPC and DPPC supported lipid bilayers under physiological conditions.

Keywords: In situ atomic force microscopy, Grazing-incidence scattering and reflectivity, Radiation damage, Model lipid membranes


Mir, M., Lugo, R., Tahirbegi, I. B., Samitier, J., (2014). Miniaturizable ion-selective arrays based on highly stable polymer membranes for biomedical applications Sensors 14, (7), 11844-11854

Poly(vinylchloride) (PVC) is the most common polymer matrix used in the fabrication of ion-selective electrodes (ISEs). However, the surfaces of PVC-based sensors have been reported to show membrane instability. In an attempt to overcome this limitation, here we developed two alternative methods for the preparation of highly stable and robust ion-selective sensors. These platforms are based on the selective electropolymerization of poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) (PEDOT), where the sulfur atoms contained in the polymer covalently interact with the gold electrode, also permitting controlled selective attachment on a miniaturized electrode in an array format. This platform sensor was improved with the crosslinking of the membrane compounds with poly(ethyleneglycol) diglycidyl ether (PEG), thus also increasing the biocompatibility of the sensor. The resulting ISE membranes showed faster signal stabilization of the sensor response compared with that of the PVC matrix and also better reproducibility and stability, thus making these platforms highly suitable candidates for the manufacture of robust implantable sensors.

Keywords: Biomedicine, Electrochemistry, Endoscope, Implantable device, Ion-selective electrode (ISE) sensor, Ischemia, pH detection, Biocompatibility, Chemical sensors, Electrochemistry, Electrodes, Electropolymerization, Endoscopy, Functional polymers, Implants (surgical), Ion selective electrodes, Medical applications, Polyvinyl chlorides, Stabilization, Biomedical applications, Biomedicine, Implantable devices, Ion selective sensors, Ischemia, Membrane instability, pH detection, Poly(3 ,4 ethylenedioxythiophene) (PEDOT), Ion selective membranes


Tejeda-Montes, E., Smith, K. H., Poch, M., López-Bosque, M. J., Martín, L., Alonso, M., Engel, E., Mata, Alvaro., (2012). Engineering membrane scaffolds with both physical and biomolecular signaling Acta Biomaterialia 8, (3), 998-1009

We report on the combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach to develop thin bioactive membrane scaffolds based on functional elastin-like polymers (ELPs). Our strategy combines ELP cross-linking and assembly, and a variety of standard and novel micro/nanofabrication techniques to create self-supporting membranes down to ∼500 nm thick that incorporate both physical and biomolecular signals, which can be easily tailored for a specific application. In this study we used an ELP that included the cell-binding motif arginine-glycine-aspartic acid-serine (RGDS). Furthermore, fabrication processes were developed to create membranes that exhibited topographical patterns with features down to 200 nm in lateral dimensions and up to 10 μm in height on either one or both sides, uniform and well-defined pores, or multiple ELP layers. A variety of processing parameters were tested in order to optimize membrane fabrication, including ELP and cross-linker concentration, temperature, reaction time and ambient humidity. Membrane micro/nanopatterning, swelling and stiffness were characterized by atomic force microscopy, nanoindentation tests and scanning electron microscopy. Upon immersion in phosphate-buffered saline and an increase in temperature from 25 to 40°C, membranes exhibited a significant increase in surface stiffness, with the reduced Young's modulus increasing with temperature. Finally, rat mesenchymal stem cells were cultured on thin RGDS-containing membranes, which allowed cell adhesion, qualitatively enhanced spreading compared to membranes without RGDS epitopes and permitted proliferation. Furthermore, cell morphology was drastically affected by topographical patterns on the surface of the membranes.

Keywords: Elastin-like polymers, Membranes, Nanotechnology, Scaffolds, Tissue engineering


Redondo-Morata, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2012). AFM-based force-clamp monitors lipid bilayer failure kinetics Langmuir , 28, (15), 6403-6410

The lipid bilayer rupture phenomenon is here explored by means of atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based force clamp, for the first time to our knowledge, to evaluate how lipid membranes respond when compressed under an external constant force, in the range of nanonewtons. Using this method, we were able to directly quantify the kinetics of the membrane rupture event and the associated energy barriers, for both single supported bilayers and multibilayers, in contradistinction to the classic studies performed at constant velocity. Moreover, the affected area of the membrane during the rupture process was calculated using an elastic deformation model. The elucidated information not only contributes to a better understanding of such relevant process, but also proves the suitability of AFM-based force clamp to study model structures as lipid bilayers. These findings on the kinetics of lipid bilayers rupture could be extended and applied to the study of other molecular thin films. Furthermore, systems of higher complexity such as models mimicking cell membranes could be studied by means of AFM-based force-clamp technique.

Keywords: Chain-Length, Spectroscopy, Nanomechanics, Microscopy, Elasticity, Stability, Membranes, Reveals, Fusion, Ions


Redondo, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2012). Stability of lipid bilayers as model membranes: Atomic force microscopy and spectroscopy approach Atomic force microscopy in liquid (ed. Baró, A. M., Reifenberger, R. G.), Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co.KGaA (Weinheim, Germany) Part I: General Atomic Force Microscopy, 259-284

van Zanten, T. S., Garcia-Parajo, M. F., (2012). Super-resolution near-field optical microscopy Comprehensive Biophysics (ed. Egelman, E. H.), Elsevier (Desdren, Germany) Volume 2: Biophysical Techniques for Characterization of Cells, 144-164

Near-field optical microscopy is a technique not limited by the laws of diffraction that enables simultaneous high-resolution fluorescence and topographic measurements at the nanometer scale. This chapter highlights the intrinsic advantages of near-field optics in the study of cellular structures. The first part of the chapter lays the foundations of the near-field concept and technical implementation of near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM), whereas the second part of the chapter focuses on applications of NSOM to the study of model membranes and cellular structures on the plasma membrane. The last part of the chapter discusses further directions of near-field optics, including optical antennas and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy approaches in the near-field regime.

Keywords: Biological membranes, Cell membrane nanoscale compartmentalization, Cellular nanodomains, Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy in reduced volumes, Immunoreceptor imaging, Lipid rafts, Near-field scanning optical microscopy, Optical nano-antennas, Shear force imaging, Single molecule detection, Super-resolution microscopy


Miranda Coelho, Nuno, Gonzalez-Garcia, Cristina, Salmeron-Sanchez, Manuel, Altankov, George, (2011). Arrangement of type IV collagen and laminin on substrates with controlled density of -OH groups Tissue Engineering Part A , 17, (17-18), 2245-2257

Collagen IV (Col IV) and laminin (Lam) are the main structural components of the basement membrane where they form two overlapping polymeric networks. We studied the adsorption pattern of these proteins on five model surfaces with tailored density of -OH groups obtained by copolymerization of different ratios ethyl acrylate (EA) and hydroxyl EA (HEA): X(OH) = 0, X(OH) = 0.3, X(OH) = 0.5, X(OH) = 0.7, and X(OH) = 1 (where X refers the ratio of HEA). Atomic force microscopy revealed substratum-specific adsorption patterns of Col IV and Lam, ranging from single molecules deposition on more hydrophilic substrata to the formation of complex networks on hydrophobic ones. Human umbilical endothelial cells were used to study the biological performance of adsorbed proteins, following the overall cell morphology, the quantities for cell adhesion and spreading, and the development of focal adhesion complexes and actin cytoskeleton. Surprisingly, two optima in the cellular interaction were observed-one on the most hydrophilic X(OH) = 1 and other on the relatively hydrophobic X(OH) = 0.3 substrate-valid for both Col IV and Lam. When the proteins were adsorbed consecutively, a hydrophobic shift to X(OH) = 0 substratum was obtained. Collectively, these data suggest that varying with the density of -OH groups one can tailor the conformation and the functional activity of adsorbed basement membrane proteins.

Keywords: Atomic-force microscopy, Fibronectin adsorption, Basement-membranes, Polymer surfaces, Cell-adhesion, Biomaterials, Wettability, Fibrinogen


Sánchez-Martín, M. J., Urbán, P., Pujol, M., Haro, I., Alsina, M. A., Busquets, M. A., (2011). Biophysical investigations of GBV-C E1 peptides as potential inhibitors of HIV-1 fusion peptide ChemPhysChem , 12, (15), 2816-2822

Five peptide sequences corresponding to the E1 protein of GBV-C [NCCAPEDIGFCLEGGCLV (P7), APEDIGFCLEGGCLVALG (P8), FCLEGGCLVALGCTICTD (P10), QAGLAVRPGKSAAQLVGE (P18), and AQLVGELGSLYGPLSVSA (P22)] were synthesized because they were capable of interfering with the HIV-1 fusion peptide (HIV-1 FP)-vesicle interaction. In this work the interaction of these peptides with the HIV-1 FP, as well as with membrane models, was analyzed to corroborate their inhibition ability and to understand if the interaction with the fusion peptide takes place in solution or at the membrane level. Several studies were carried out on aggregation and membrane fusion, surface Plasmon resonance, and conformational analysis by circular dichroism. Moreover, in vitro toxicity assays, including cytotoxicity studies in 3T3 fibroblasts and hemolysis assays in human red blood cells, were performed to evaluate if these peptides could be potentially used in anti-HIV-1 therapy. Results show that P10 is not capable of inhibiting membrane fusion caused by HIV-1 and it aggregates liposomes and fuses membranes, thus we decided to discard it for futures studies. P18 and P22 do not inhibit membrane fusion, but they inhibit the ability of HIV-1 FP to form pores in bilayers, thus we have not discarded them yet. P7 and P8 were selected as the best candidates for future studies because they are capable of inhibiting membrane fusion and the interaction of HIV-1 FP with bilayers. Therefore, these peptides could be potentially used in future anti-HIV-1 research. Part of the gang: Liposomes are deposited on a surface plasmon resonance chip (see AFM image of the chip) to observe the interaction of peptides corresponding to the E1 envelop protein of the hepatitis G virus with membranes to show how they reduce the interaction of the HIV-1 fusion peptide.

Keywords: HIV-1 fusion protein, Liposomes, Membranes, Peptides, Viruses


Garcia-Manyes, S., Redondo-Morata, L., Oncins, G., Sanz, F., (2010). Nanomechanics of lipid bilayers: Heads or tails? Journal of the American Chemical Society American Chemical Society 132, (37), 12874-12886

Understanding the effect of mechanical stress on membranes is of primary importance in biophysics. Here we use force spectroscopy AFM to quantitatively characterize the nanomechanical stability of supported lipid bilayers as a function of their chemical composition. The onset of plastic deformation reveals itself as a repetitive jump in the approaching force curve, which represents a molecular fingerprint for the bilayer mechanical stability. By systematically probing a set of chemically distinct supported lipid bilayers (SLBs), we first show that both the headgroup and tail have a decisive effect on their mechanical properties. While the mechanical stability of the probed SLBs linearly increases by 3.3 nN upon the introduction of each additional -CH2- in the chain, it exhibits a significant dependence on the phospholipid headgroup, ranging from 3 nN for DPPA to 66 nN for DPPG. Furthermore, we also quantify the reduction of the membrane mechanical stability as a function of the number of unsaturations and molecular branching in the chemical structure of the apolar tails. Finally, we demonstrate that, upon introduction of cholesterol and ergosterol, contrary to previous belief the mechanical stability of membranes not only increases linearly in the liquid phase (DLPC) but also for phospholipids present in the gel phase (DPPC). Our results are discussed in the framework of the continuum nucleation model. This work highlights the compelling effect of subtle variations in the chemical structure of phospholipid molecules on the membrane response when exposed to mechanical forces, a mechanism of common occurrence in nature.

Keywords: Atomic-force microscopy, Molecular-dynamics simulation, Aqueous-electrolyte solutions, Supported planar membranes, Phospholipid-bilayers, Biological-membranes, Physical-properties, Fluid membranes, Model membranes, Chain-length


van Zanten, Thomas S., Lopez-Bosque, M. J . , Garcia-Parajo, M. F., (2010). Imaging individual proteins and nanodomains on intact cell membranes with a probe-based optical antenna Small , 6, (2), 270-275

Optical antennas that confine and enhance electromagnetic fields in a nanometric region hold great potential for nanobioimaging and biosensing. Probe-based monopole optical antennas are fabricated to enhance fields localized to <30 nm near the antenna apex in aqueous conditions. These probes are used under appropriate excitation antenna conditions to image individual antibodies with an unprecedented resolution of 26 ± 4 nm and virtually no surrounding background. On intact cell membranes in physiological conditions, the obtained resolution is 30 ± 6 nm. Importantly, the method allows individual proteins to be distinguished from nanodomains and the degree of clustering to be quantified by directly measuring physical size and intensity of individual fluorescent spots. Improved antenna geometries should lead to true live cell imaging below 10-nm resolution with position accuracy in the subnanometric range.

Keywords: Cell membranes, Cell receptors, Focused ion beam milling, Nanodomains, Optical antennas


Fumagalli, L., Ferrari, G., Sampietro, M., Gomila, G., (2009). Quantitative nanoscale dielectric microscopy of single-layer supported biomembranes Nano Letters , 9, (4), 1604-1608

We present the experimental demonstration of low-frequency dielectric constant imaging of single-layer supported biomembranes at the nanoscale. The dielectric constant image has been quantitatively reconstructed by combining the thickness and local capacitance obtained using a scanning force microscope equipped with a sub-attofarad low-frequency capacitance detector. This work opens new possibilities for studying bioelectric phenomena and the dielectric properties of biological membranes at the nanoscale.

Keywords: Atomic-force microscopy, Nnear-field microscopy, Purple membrane, Scanning capacitance, Biological-systems, Fluid, Spectroscopy, Resolution, Proteins, Dynamics


Nussio, M. R., Oncins, G., Ridelis, I., Szili, E., Shapter, J. G., Sanz, F., Voelcker, N. H., (2009). Nanomechanical characterization of phospholipid bilayer islands on flat and porous substrates: A force spectroscopy study Journal of Physical Chemistry B , 113, (30), 10339-10347

In this study, we compare for the first time the nanomechanical properties of lipid bilayer islands on flat and porous surfaces. 1,2-Dimyzistoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphatidylcholine (DMPC) and 1,2-dipalmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphatidylcholine (DPPC) bilayers were deposited on flat (silicon and mica) and porous silicon (pSi) substrate surfaces and examined using atomic force spectroscopy and force volume imaging. Force spectroscopy measurements revealed the effects of the underlying substrate and of the lipid phase on the nanomechanical properties of bilayers islands. For mica and silicon, significant differences in breakthrough force between the center and the edges of bilayer islands were observed for both phospolipids. These differences were more pronounced for DMPC than for DPPC, presumably due to melting effects at the edges of DMPC bilayers. In contrast, bilayer islands deposited on pSi yielded similar breakthrough forces in the central region and along the perimeter of the islands, and those values in turn were similar to those measured along the perimeter of bilayer islands deposited on the flat substrates. The study also demonstrates that pSi is suitable solid support for the formation of pore-spanning phospholipid bilayers with potential applications in transmembrane protein studies, drug delivery, and biosensing.

Keywords: Black lipid-membranes, Gold surfaces, Supported bilayers, Channel activity, Micro-BLMS, Silicon, Proteins, Vesicles, AFM, Temperature measurement


Cho, S., Castellarnau, M., Samitier, J., Thielecke, H., (2008). Dependence of impedance of embedded single cells on cellular behaviour Sensors 8, (2), 1198-1211

Non-invasive single cell analyses are increasingly required for the medical diagnostics of test substances or the development of drugs and therapies on the single cell level. For the non-invasive characterisation of cells, impedance spectroscopy which provides the frequency dependent electrical properties has been used. Recently, microfludic systems have been investigated to manipulate the single cells and to characterise the electrical properties of embedded cells. In this article, the impedance of partially embedded single cells dependent on the cellular behaviour was investigated by using the microcapillary. An analytical equation was derived to relate the impedance of embedded cells with respect to the morphological and physiological change of extracellular interface. The capillary system with impedance measurement showed a feasibility to monitor the impedance change of embedded single cells caused by morphological and physiological change of cell during the addition of DMSO. By fitting the derived equation to the measured impedance of cell embedded at different negative pressure levels, it was able to extrapolate the equivalent gap and gap conductivity between the cell and capillary wall representing the cellular behaviour.

Keywords: Frequency-domain, Spectroscopy, Erythrocytes, Biosensor, Membrane, System


De Bakker, B. I., De Lange, F., Cambi, A., Korterik, J. P., Van Dijk, E. M. H. P., Van Hulst, N. F., Figdor, C. G., Garcia-Parajo, M. F., (2007). Nanoscale organization of the pathogen receptor DC-SIGN mapped by single-molecule high-resolution fluorescence microscopy ChemPhysChem , 8, (10), 1473-1480

DC-SIGN, a C-type lectin exclusively expressed on dendritic cells (DCs), plays an important role in pathogen recognition by binding with high affinity to a large variety of microorganisms. Recent experimental evidence points to a direct relation between the function of DC-SIGN as a viral receptor and its spatial arrangement on the plasma membrane. We have investigated the nanoscale organization of fluorescently labeled DC-SIGN on intact isolated DCs by means of near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM) combined with single-molecule detection. Fluorescence spots of different intensity and size have been directly visualized by optical means with a spatial resolution of less than 100 nm. Intensity- and size-distribution histograms of the DC-SIGN fluorescent spots confirm that approximately 80% of the receptors are organized in nanosized domains randomly distributed on the cell membrane. Intensity-size correlation analysis revealed remarkable heterogeneity in the molecular packing density of the domains. Furthermore, we have mapped the intermolecular organization within a dense cluster by means of sequential NSOM imaging combined with discrete single-molecule photobleaching. In this way we have determined the spatial coordinates of 13 different individual dyes, with a localization accuracy of 6 nm. Our experimental observations are all consistent with an arrangement of DC-SIGN designed to maximize its chances of binding to a wide range of microorganisms. Our data also illustrate the potential of NSOM as an ultrasensitive, high-resolution technique to probe nanometer-scale organization of molecules on the cell membrane.

Keywords: High-resolution optical microscopy, Lectins, Membranes, Receptors, Single-molecule studies