Int J Med Sci 2020; 17(7):844-858. doi:10.7150/ijms.41805 This issue


Nano-scientific Application of Atomic Force Microscopy in Pathology: from Molecules to Tissues

Tony Mutiso Kiio, Soyeun Park

College of Pharmacy, Keimyung University, 1095 Dalgubeoldaero, Daegu 42601, Republic of Korea.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Kiio TM, Park S. Nano-scientific Application of Atomic Force Microscopy in Pathology: from Molecules to Tissues. Int J Med Sci 2020; 17(7):844-858. doi:10.7150/ijms.41805. Available from

File import instruction


The advantages of atomic force microscopy (AFM) in biological research are its high imaging resolution, sensitivity, and ability to operate in physiological conditions. Over the past decades, rigorous studies have been performed to determine the potential applications of AFM techniques in disease diagnosis and prognosis. Many pathological conditions are accompanied by alterations in the morphology, adhesion properties, mechanical compliances, and molecular composition of cells and tissues. The accurate determination of such alterations can be utilized as a diagnostic and prognostic marker. Alteration in cell morphology represents changes in cell structure and membrane proteins induced by pathologic progression of diseases. Mechanical compliances are also modulated by the active rearrangements of cytoskeleton or extracellular matrix triggered by disease pathogenesis. In addition, adhesion is a critical step in the progression of many diseases including infectious and neurodegenerative diseases. Recent advances in AFM techniques have demonstrated their ability to obtain molecular composition as well as topographic information. The quantitative characterization of molecular alteration in biological specimens in terms of disease progression provides a new avenue to understand the underlying mechanisms of disease onset and progression. In this review, we have highlighted the application of diverse AFM techniques in pathological investigations.

Keywords: atomic force microscopy, adhesion properties, disease diagnosis, morphology, mechanical compliance, molecular recognition