Biophysical Reviews

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 421–429 | Cite as

Directly watching biomolecules in action by high-speed atomic force microscopy

  • Toshio Ando


Proteins are dynamic in nature and work at the single molecule level. Therefore, directly watching protein molecules in dynamic action at high spatiotemporal resolution must be the most straightforward approach to understanding how they function. To make this observation possible, high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) has been developed. Its current performance allows us to film biological molecules at 10–16 frames/s, without disturbing their function. In fact, dynamic structures and processes of various proteins have been successfully visualized, including bacteriorhodopsin responding to light, myosin V walking on actin filaments, and even intrinsically disordered proteins undergoing order/disorder transitions. The molecular movies have provided insights that could not have been reached in other ways. Moreover, the cantilever tip can be used to manipulate molecules during successive imaging. This capability allows us to observe changes in molecules resulting from dissection or perturbation. This mode of imaging has been successfully applied to myosin V, peroxiredoxin and doublet microtubules, leading to new discoveries. Since HS-AFM can be combined with other techniques, such as super-resolution optical microscopy and optical tweezers, the usefulness of HS-AFM will be further expanded in the near future.


Imaging High-speed AFM Proteins Dynamic processes Structural changes 



This work was supported by JST/CREST (#JPMJCR13M1) and KAKENHI from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan (#21113002, #24227005 and #26119003).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

Toshio Ando declares that he has no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bio-AFM Frontier Research Center, Institute of Science and EngineeringKanazawa UniversityKanazawaJapan
  2. 2.CREST, Japan Science and Technology AgencyTokyoJapan

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