Multivalent non-covalent interactions lead to strongest polymer adhesion†
Multivalent interactions play a leading role in biological processes such as the inhibition of inflammation or virus internalization. The multivalent interactions show enhanced strength and better selectivity compared to monovalent interactions, but they are much less understood due to their complexity. Here, we detect molecular interactions in the range of a few piconewtons to several nanonewtons and correlate them with the formation and subsequent breaking of one or several bonds and assign these bonds. This becomes possible by performing atomic force microcopy (AFM)-based single molecule force spectroscopy of a multifunctional polymer covalently attached to an AFM cantilever tip on a substrate bound polymer layer of the multifunctional polymer. Varying the pH value and the crosslinking state of the polymer layer, we find that bonds of intermediate strength (non-covalent), like coordination bonds, give the highest multivalent bond strength, even outperforming strong (covalent) bonds. At the same time, covalent bonds enhance the polymer layer density, increasing in particular the number of non-covalent bonds. In summary, we can show that the key for the design of stable and durable polymer coatings is to provide a variety of multivalent interactions and to keep the number of non-covalent interactions at a high level.