Probing the machinery of intracellular trafficking with the atomic force microscope

Sanjay Kumar, Jan H. Hoh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Atomic force microscopy has emerged as a powerful tool for characterizing single biological macromolecules, macromolecular assemblies, and whole cells in aqueous buffer, in real time, and at molecular-scale spatial and force resolution. Many of the central elements of intracellular transport are tens to hundreds of nanometers in size and highly dynamic. Thus, atomic force microscopy provides a valuable means of addressing questions of structure and mechanism in intracellular transport. We begin this review of recent efforts to apply atomic force microscopy to problems in intracellular transport by discussing the technical principles behind atomic force microscopy. We then turn to three specific areas in which atomic force microscopy has been applied to problems with direct implications for intracellular trafficking: cytoskeletal structure and dynamics, vesicular transport, and receptor-ligand interactions. In each case, we discuss studies which use both intact cellular elements and reconstituted models. While many technical challenges remain, these studies point to several areas where atomic force microscopy can be used to provide valuable insight into intracellular transport at exquisite spatial and energetic resolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)746-756
Number of pages11
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2001


  • AFM
  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Cell mechanics
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Force measurements
  • Imaging
  • Membrane fusion
  • Receptors
  • Vesicles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology


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