Surface passivation for single-molecule protein studies

Stanley D. Chandradoss, Anna C. Haagsma, Young Kwang Lee, Jae Ho Hwang, Jwa Min Nam, Chirlmin Joo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy has proven to be instrumental in understanding a wide range of biological phenomena at the nanoscale. Important examples of what this technique can yield to biological sciences are the mechanistic insights on protein-protein and protein-nucleic acid interactions. When interactions of proteins are probed at the single-molecule level, the proteins or their substrates are often immobilized on a glass surface, which allows for a long-term observation. This immobilization scheme may introduce unwanted surface artifacts. Therefore, it is essential to passivate the glass surface to make it inert. Surface coating using polyethylene glycol (PEG) stands out for its high performance in preventing proteins from non-specifically interacting with a glass surface. However, the polymer coating procedure is difficult, due to the complication arising from a series of surface treatments and the stringent requirement that a surface needs to be free of any fluorescent molecules at the end of the procedure. Here, we provide a robust protocol with step-by-step instructions. It covers surface cleaning including piranha etching, surface functionalization with amine groups, and finally PEG coating. To obtain a high density of a PEG layer, we introduce a new strategy of treating the surface with PEG molecules over two rounds, which remarkably improves the quality of passivation. We provide representative results as well as practical advice for each critical step so that anyone can achieve the high quality surface passivation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere50549
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number86
StatePublished - 24 Apr 2014


  • Amino-silanization
  • Chemistry
  • Fluorescence
  • Glass surface coating
  • Issue 86
  • Piranha etching
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
  • Polymer
  • Single-molecule spectroscopy
  • Surface passivation


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