Mechanical measurement of hydrogen bonded host–guest systems under non-equilibrium, near-physiological conditions
Decades after the birth of supramolecular chemistry, there are many techniques to measure noncovalent interactions, such as hydrogen bonding, under equilibrium conditions. As ensembles of molecules rapidly lose coherence, we cannot extrapolate bulk data to single-molecule events under non-equilibrium conditions, more relevant to the dynamics of biological systems. We present a new method that exploits the high force resolution of optical tweezers to measure at the single molecule level the mechanical strength of a hydrogen bonded host–guest pair out of equilibrium and under near-physiological conditions. We utilize a DNA reporter to unambiguously isolate single binding events. The Hamilton receptor–cyanuric acid host–guest system is used as a test bed. The force required to dissociate the host–guest system is ∼17 pN and increases with the pulling rate as expected for a system under non-equilibrium conditions. Blocking one of the hydrogen bonding sites results in a significant decrease of the force-to-break by 1–2 pN, pointing out the ability of the method to resolve subtle changes in the mechanical strength of the binding due to the individual H-bonding components. We believe the method will prove to be a versatile tool to address important questions in supramolecular chemistry.