Protein Cages pp 115-137 | Cite as

Material Properties of Viral Nanocages Explored by Atomic Force Microscopy

  • Mariska G. M. van Rosmalen
  • Wouter H. RoosEmail author
  • Gijs J. L. Wuite
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 1252)


Single-particle nanoindentation by atomic force microscopy (AFM) is an emergent technique to characterize the material properties of nano-sized proteinaceous systems. AFM uses a very small tip attached to a cantilever to scan the surface of the substrate. As a result of the sensitive feedback loop of AFM, the force applied by the tip on the substrate during scanning can be controlled and monitored. By accurately controlling this scanning force, topographical maps of fragile substrates can be acquired to study the morphology of the substrate. In addition, mechanical properties of the substrate like stiffness and breaking point can be determined by using the force spectroscopy capability of AFM. Here we discuss basics of AFM operation and how this technique is used to determine the structure and mechanical properties of protein nanocages, in particular viral particles. Knowledge of morphology as well as mechanical properties is essential for understanding viral life cycles, including genome packaging, capsid maturation, and uncoating, but also contributes to the development of diagnostics, vaccines, imaging modalities, and targeted therapeutic devices based on viruslike particles.

Key words

Virus Atomic force microscopy Nanoindentation Mechanical properties Force spectroscopy Biophysics 



We thank Prof. G. Nemerow (Scripps, La Jolla) for kindly providing us with the adenoviral particles. WHR is supported by a VIDI grant from the Nederlandse organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO). GJLW is supported by a Fundamenteel Onderzoek der Materie Projectruimte grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mariska G. M. van Rosmalen
    • 1
  • Wouter H. Roos
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Gijs J. L. Wuite
    • 1
  1. 1.Natuur- en Sterrenkunde and LaserLabVrije UniversiteitAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Natuur- en Sterrenkunde/FEWVrije UniversiteitAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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