Ligand-Mediated Mechanical Enhancement in Protein Complexes at Nano- and Macro-Scale

Samuel Kim, Marcus V.J. Cathey, Brandon C. Bounds, Zackary Scholl, Piotr E. Marszalek, Minkyu Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protein self-assembly plays a vital role in a myriad of biological functions and in the construction of biomaterials. Although the physical association underlying these assemblies offers high specificity, the advantage often compromises the overall durability of protein complexes. To address this challenge, we propose a novel strategy that reinforces the molecular self-assembly of protein complexes mediated by their ligand. Known for their robust noncovalent interactions with biotin, streptavidin (SAv) tetramers are examined to understand how the ligand influences the mechanical strength of protein complexes at the nanoscale and macroscale, employing atomic force microscopy-based single-molecule force spectroscopy, rheology, and bioerosion analysis. Our study reveals that biotin binding enhances the mechanical strength of individual SAv tetramers at the nanoscale. This enhancement translates into improved shear elasticity and reduced bioerosion rates when SAv tetramers are utilized as cross-linking junctions within hydrogel. This approach, which enhances the mechanical strength of protein-based materials without compromising specificity, is expected to open new avenues for advanced biotechnological applications, including self-assembled, robust biomimetic scaffolds and soft robotics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-280
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2024


  • artificial protein design
  • bulk mechanical properties
  • hydrogel
  • ligand
  • molecular self-assembly
  • nanomechanics
  • protein complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


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