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The mechanical properties of biological systems are emerging as fundamental in determining their functional activity. For example, cells continuously probe their environment by applying forces and, at the same time, are exposed to forces produced by the same environment. Also in biological membranes, the activity of membrane related proteins are affected by the overall mechanical properties of the hosting environment. Traditionally, the mesoscopic mechanical properties of lipid bilayers have been studied by micropipette aspiration techniques. In recent years, the possibility of probing mechanical properties of lipid bilayers at the nanoscale has been promoted by the force spectroscopy potentiality of Atomic Force Microscopes (AFM). By acquiring force-curves on supported lipid bilayers (SLBs) it is possible to probe the mechanical properties on a scale relevant to the interaction between membrane proteins and lipid bilayers and to monitor changes of these properties as a result of a changing environment. Here, we review a series of force spectroscopy experiments performed on SLBs with an emphasis on the functional consequences the measured mechanical properties can have on membrane proteins. We also discuss the force spectroscopy experiments on SLBs in the context of theories developed for dynamic force spectroscopy experiments with the aim to extract the kinetic and energetic description of the process of membrane rupture. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Andrea Alessandrini, Paolo Facci. Nanoscale mechanical properties of lipid bilayers and their relevance in biomembrane organization and function. Micron (Oxford, England : 1993). 2012 Dec;43(12):1212-23

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PMID: 22503400

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