Combining colloidal probe atomic force and reflection interference contrast microscopy to study the compressive mechanics of hyaluronan brushes
We describe a method that combines colloidal probe atomic force microscopy (AFM) and reflection interference contrast microscopy (RICM) to characterize the mechanical properties of thin and solvated polymer films. When analyzing polymer films, a fundamental problem in colloidal probe AFM experiments is to determine the distance at closest approach between the probe and the substrate on which the film is deposited. By combining AFM and RICM in situ, forces and absolute distances can be measured simultaneously. Using the combined setup, we quantify the compressive mechanics of films of the polysaccharide hyaluronan that is end-grafted to a supported lipid bilayer. The experimental data, and comparison with polymer theory, show that hyaluronan films are well-described as elastic, very soft and highly solvated polymer brushes. The data on these well-defined films should be a useful reference for the investigation of the more complex hyaluronan-rich coats that surround many living cells.