Research home

Marco Lazzarino

AFM and biomechanics

Marco LazzarinoScientist at IOM-CNR

Marco Lazzarino got the degree in Physics from the University of Genoa (IT) and the Phd from the University of Groningen (NL). From 1992 to 1998 he worked on the electronic properties of semiconductor devices, including heterostructures, Schottky barriers, hybrid superconductor-semiconductor and 2D electron gas with INFM in Trieste and with SNS in Pisa, Italy.

Since 1999 he is a scientist with CNR-IOM in Trieste where initially worked in the field of scanning probe microscopy, nano-lithography and low temperature SNOM.

In 2003 a visiting period at Princeton University (NJ) triggered a new interest in the application of probe microscopy to life science and the development of micro and nanoelectromechanical systems for the detection and manipulation of biological molecules. Nano-mechanobiology is still his current scientific activity.

He is also scientific coordinator of the Nano-Bio-Analysis Laboratory of the Center for BioMedicine (CBM S.c.r.l. - Trieste) dedicated to the application of scanning probe microscopy to biology.

He is co-author of 85 papers on international journals.


Research Lines

Cell force adhesion measurements

A broad spectrum of biological processes including the embrionic development, assembly of  tissues and nervous system, inflammation reaction and tumor progression requires a controlled cell adhesion. The complex process of cell adhesion, both with extracellular matrix and other cells, is mediated not only by several cellular elements (i.e. proteins, cytoskeleton, signaling molecules, etc) but also mechanical stimuli. The quantitative analysis of such cellular (or intercellular) interactions is required to gain an understanding about cell adhesion regulation. The adhesion force can be measured through the use of atomic force microscopy (AFM) in single cell force spectroscopy modality. The experimental AFM set-up and the potentiality of the technique are illustrated below. The adhesion signature, represented by the force-distance retraction curve, provides quantitative information with pN resolution (i.e. detachment force, tethers binding force and detachment energy) that cannot be attained by other techniques.

Nanopatterned substrates

Nanopatterned structures, as well as nanowires and carbon nanotubes substrates have been shown to influence the fate of differentiating embryonic stem cells or influence drastically the functionality of mature neurons. Tailoring nanostructures properties such as geometrical structure or mechanical response can be used for several purposes as guiding the development of embryonic stem cells into neurons, heart cells and other specialised cells; stimulating their response with localised molecules and investigating their biocompatibility with semicondutor materials for nanobiotechnology applications. In this framework, the adhesion strength measurements are particularly important to understand the mechanotransduction mechanisms that can be triggered by nanostructures. A rather inexplored field is that of thermal properties. Substrates with high thermal gradient as high as 1C/mm hev been suggested to drive migration of neuronal cells or cancer cells, however still very little is known on how temperature and temperature gradients influence the behaviour of different kind of cells.

Raman spectroscopy

Raman spectroscopy provides a quantitative information on material properties by measuring the vibration frequencies of the atomic bond within a material. In proteins and other biological molecules this may help to recover their composition and structure in-vitro, thus enabling the correlation between structure and function. A widespread experimental approach to increase significantly Raman intensity makes use of the plasmonic resonances of gold nanoparticles (AuNP). When AuNP are dispersed in solution or on a solid substrate this technique is named SERS (surface enhanced raman scattering) Combining atomic force microscopy (AFM) and Raman spectroscopy by integrating a gold nanoparticle on top of the AFM probe the SERS effect is localized and provides spatial and structural information not available otherwise. Our Raman instrument integrated with the AFM set-up allows combining the topographical with the optical analysis with single molecule resolution.

Selected publications

Nat Commun. 2015 May 12;6:7093. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8093

Conformational rearrangements in the transmembrane domain of CNGA1 channels revealed by single-molecule force spectroscopy

Maity S, Mazzolini M, Arcangeletti M, Valbuena A, Fabris P, Lazzarino M, Torre V


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 May 4. pii: 201423162. [Epub ahead of print]

The phototransduction machinery in the rod outer segment has a strong efficacy gradient

Mazzolini M, Facchetti G, Andolfi L, Proietti Zaccaria R, Tuccio S, Treu J, Altafini C, Di Fabrizio EM, Lazzarino M, Rapp G, Torre V.

Small. 2014 Mar 20. doi: 10.1002/smll.201400245.

A DNA Origami Nanorobot Controlled by Nucleic Acid Hybridization

Torelli E, Marini M, Palmano S, Piantanida L, Polano C, Scarpellini A, Lazzarino M, Firrao G.

Biotechnol Bioeng, 2013 Aug;110(8):2301-10.

Nanomechanics Controls Neuronal Precursors Adhesion and Differentiation

Migliorini E, Ban J, Grenci G, Andolfi L, Pozzato A, Tormen M, Torre V and Lazzarino M


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