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Journal Article

Theory, analysis, and interpretation of single-molecule force spectroscopy experiments

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Dudko, O. K., Hummer, G., & Szabo, A. (2008). Theory, analysis, and interpretation of single-molecule force spectroscopy experiments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(41), 15755-15760. doi:10.1073/pnas.0806085105.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-4F8F-1
Dynamic force spectroscopy probes the kinetic and thermodynamic properties of single molecules and molecular assemblies. Here, we propose a simple procedure to extract kinetic information from such experiments. The cornerstone of our method is a transformation of the rupture-force histograms obtained at different force-loading rates into the force-dependent lifetimes measurable in constant-force experiments. To interpret the force-dependent lifetimes, we derive a generalization of Bell's formula that is formally exact within the framework of Kramers theory. This result complements the analytical expression for the lifetime that we derived previously for a class of model potentials. We illustrate our procedure by analyzing the nanopore unzipping of DNA hairpins and the unfolding of a protein attached by flexible linkers to an atomic force microscope. Our procedure to transform rupture-force histograms into the force-dependent lifetimes remains valid even when the molecular extension is a poor reaction coordinate and higher-dimensional free-energy surfaces must be considered. In this case the microscopic interpretation of the lifetimes becomes more challenging because the lifetimes can reveal richer, and even nonmonotonic, dependence on the force.