Atomic force microscopy for single molecule characterisation of protein aggregation

Francesco Simone Ruggeri*, Tomas Šneideris, Michele Vendruscolo, Tuomas P.J. Knowles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


The development of atomic force microscopy (AFM) has opened up a wide range of novel opportunities in nanoscience and new modalities of observation in complex biological systems. AFM imaging has been widely employed to resolve the complex and heterogeneous conformational states involved in protein aggregation at the single molecule scale and shed light onto the molecular basis of a variety of human pathologies, including neurodegenerative disorders. The study of individual macromolecules at nanoscale, however, remains challenging, especially when fully quantitative information is required. In this review, we first discuss the principles of AFM with a special emphasis on the fundamental factors defining its sensitivity and accuracy. We then review the fundamental parameters and approaches to work at the limit of AFM resolution in order to perform single molecule statistical analysis of biomolecules and nanoscale protein aggregates. This single molecule statistical approach has proved to be powerful to unravel the molecular and hierarchical assembly of the misfolded species present transiently during protein aggregation, to visualise their dynamics at the nanoscale, as well to study the structural properties of amyloid-inspired functional nanomaterials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-148
Number of pages15
JournalArchives of Biochemistry and Biophysics
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Amyloid
  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Biophysics
  • Protein aggregation
  • Resolution
  • Single molecule imaging


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