Publication Details

Gelmi, A., Zanoni, M., Higgins, M. J., Gambhir, S., Officer, D. L., Diamond, D. & Wallace, G. G. (2013). Optical switching of protein interactions on photosensitive-electroactive polymers measured by atomic force microscopy. Journal of Materials Chemistry, 1 (16), 2162-2168.


The ability to switch the physico-chemical properties of conducting polymers opens up new possibilities for a range of applications. Appropriately functionalised materials can provide routes to multi-modal switching, for example, in response to light and/or electrochemical stimuli. This capability is important in the field of bionics wherein remote and temporal control of the properties of materials is becoming attractive. The ability to actuate a film via photonic stimuli is particularly interesting as it facilitates the modulation of interactions between host binding sites and potential guest molecules. In this work, we studied two different poly-terthiophenes: one was functionalised with a spiropyran photoswitch (pTTh-SP) and the second with a non-photoswitchable methyl acetate moiety (pTTh-MA). These substrates were exposed to several cycles of illumination with light of different wavelengths and the resulting effect studied with UV-vis spectroscopy, contact angle and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The AFM tips were chemically activated with fibronectin (FN) and the adhesion force of the protein to the polymeric surface was measured. The pTTh-MA (no SP incorporated) showed a slightly higher average maximum adhesion (0.96 ± 0.14 nN) than the modified pTTh-SP surface (0.77 ± 0.08 nN), but after exposure of the pTTh-SP polymer to UV, the average maximum adhesion of the pTTh-MC (merocyanine form) was significantly smaller (0.49 ± 0.06 nN) than both the pTTh-MA and pTTh-SP. In addition, the tip-sample separation distances of the adhesive interactions are indicative of the FN interaction occurring over a distance more closely related to the average dimensions of its compact conformation. The results suggest that surface energy and hydrophobic forces are predominant in determining the protein adhesion to the films studied and that this effect can be photonically tuned. By extension, this further implies that it should be possible to obtain a degree of spatial and temporal control of the surface binding behaviour of certain proteins with these functionalised surfaces through photo-activation/deactivation, which, in principle, should facilitate patterned growth behaviour (e.g. using masks or directional illumination) or photocontrol of protein uptake and release.

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