Staff member


Marina Inés Giannotti

Senior Researcher
Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches
migiannotti@ibecbarcelona.eu
+34 934 020 208
Staff member publications

Gumi-Audenis, B., Sanz, F., Giannotti, M. I., (2015). Impact of galactosylceramides on the nanomechanical properties of lipid bilayer models: an AFM-force spectroscopy study Soft Matter 11, (27), 5447-5454

Galactosylceramides (GalCer) are glycosphingolipids bound to a monosaccharide group, responsible for inducing extensive hydrogen bonds that yield their alignment and accumulation in the outer leaflet of the biological membrane together with cholesterol (Chol) in rafts. In this work, the influence of GalCer on the nanomechanical properties of supported lipid bilayers (SLBs) based on DPPC (1,2-dipalmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine) and DLPC (1,2-didodecanoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocoline) as model systems was assessed. Phosphatidylcholine (PC):GalCer SLBs were characterized by means of differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and atomic force microscopy (AFM), in both imaging and force spectroscopy (AFM-FS) modes. Comparing both PC systems, we determined that the behaviour of SLB mixtures is governed by the PC phase-like state at the working temperature. While a phase segregated system is observed for DLPC:GalCer SLBs, GalCer are found to be dissolved in DPPC SLBs for GalCer contents up to 20 mol%. In both systems, the incorporation of GalCer intensifies the nanomechanical properties of SLBs. Interestingly, segregated domains of exceptionally high mechanical stability are formed in DLPC:GalCer SLBs. Finally, the role of 20 mol% Chol in GalCer organization and function in the membranes was assessed. Both PC model systems displayed phase segregation and remarkable nanomechanical stability when GalCer and Chol coexist in SLBs.


Gumí-Audenis, B., Carlà, F., Vitorino, M. V., Panzarella, A., Porcar, L., Boilot, M., Guerber, S., Bernard, P., Rodrigues, M. S., Sanz, F., Giannotti, M. I., Costa, L., (2015). Custom AFM for X-ray beamlines: in situ biological investigations under physiological conditions Journal of Synchrotron Radiation 22, 1364-1371

A fast atomic force microscope (AFM) has been developed that can be installed as a sample holder for grazing-incidence X-ray experiments at solid/gas or solid/liquid interfaces. It allows a wide range of possible investigations, including soft and biological samples under physiological conditions (hydrated specimens). The structural information obtained using the X-rays is combined with the data gathered with the AFM (morphology and mechanical properties), providing a unique characterization of the specimen and its dynamics in situ during an experiment. In this work, lipid monolayers and bilayers in air or liquid environment have been investigated by means of AFM, both with imaging and force spectroscopy, and X-ray reflectivity. In addition, this combination allows the radiation damage induced by the beam on the sample to be studied, as has been observed on DOPC and DPPC supported lipid bilayers under physiological conditions.

Keywords: In situ atomic force microscopy, Grazing-incidence scattering and reflectivity, Radiation damage, Model lipid membranes


Pérez-Madrigal, M. M., Giannotti, M. I., Del Valle, L. J., Franco, L., Armelin, E., Puiggalí, J., Sanz, F., Alemán, C., (2014). Thermoplastic polyurethane:polythiophene nanomembranes for biomedical and biotechnological applications ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces 6, (12), 9719-9732

Nanomembranes have been prepared by spin-coating mixtures of a polythiophene (P3TMA) derivative and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) using 20:80, 40:60, and 60:40 TPU:P3TMA weight ratios. After structural, topographical, electrochemical, and thermal characterization, properties typically related with biomedical applications have been investigated: swelling, resistance to both hydrolytic and enzymatic degradation, biocompatibility, and adsorption of type I collagen, which is an extra cellular matrix protein that binds fibronectin favoring cell adhesion processes. The swelling ability and the hydrolytic and enzymatic degradability of TPU:P3TMA membranes increases with the concentration of P3TMA. Moreover, the degradation of the blends is considerably promoted by the presence of enzymes in the hydrolytic medium, TPU:P3TMA blends behaving as biodegradable materials. On the other hand, TPU:P3TMA nanomembranes behave as bioactive platforms stimulating cell adhesion and, especially, cell viability. Type I collagen adsorption largely depends on the substrate employed to support the nanomembrane, whereas it is practically independent of the chemical nature of the polymeric material used to fabricate the nanomembrane. However, detailed microscopy study of the morphology and topography of adsorbed collagen evidence the formation of different organizations, which range from fibrils to pseudoregular honeycomb networks depending on the composition of the nanomembrane that is in contact with the protein. Scaffolds made of electroactive TPU:P3TMA nanomembranes are potential candidates for tissue engineering biomedical applications.

Keywords: Bioactive platform, Biodegradable blend, Collaged adsorption, Scaffolds, Tissue engineering, Ultrathin films


Pérez-Madrigal, M. M., Giannotti, M. I., Armelin, E., Sanz, F., Alemán, C., (2014). Electronic, electric and electrochemical properties of bioactive nanomembranes made of polythiophene:thermoplastic polyurethane Polymer Chemistry 5, (4), 1248-1257

The electronic, electric and electrochemical response of nanomembranes prepared by using spin-coating mixtures of a semiconducting polythiophene derivative (P3TMA) and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) has been exhaustively examined by UV-vis spectroscopy, conductive AFM, current/voltage measurements and cyclic voltammetry. TPU:P3TMA nanomembranes were reported to be good substrates for applications related to tissue engineering, acting as a cellular matrix for cell adhesion and proliferation. Both TPU:P3TMA and P3TMA nanomembranes show semiconductor behavior with very similar band gap energy (2.35 and 2.32 eV, respectively), which has been attributed to the influence of the fabrication process on the π-conjugation length and packing interactions of P3TMA chains. This behavior is in opposition to the observations in THF solution, which indicates that the band gap energy of P3TMA is clearly lower than that of the mixture, independently of the concentration. The current and conductivity values determined for the nanomembranes, which range from 0.43 to 1.85 pA and from 2.23 × 10-5 to 5.19 × 10-6 S cm-1, respectively, evidence inhomogeneity in the P3TMA-rich domains. This has been associated with the irregular distribution of the doped chains and the presence of insulating TPU chains. The voltammetric response of TPU:P3TMA and P3TMA nanomembranes is similar in terms of ability to store charge and electrochemical stability. Overall results indicate that TPU:P3TMA nanomembranes are potential candidates for the fabrication of bioactive substrates able to promote cell regeneration through electrical or electrochemical stimulation.


Redondo-Morata, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2014). Structural impact of cations on lipid bilayer models: Nanomechanical properties by AFM-force spectroscopy Molecular Membrane Biology 31, (1), 17-28

Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) has become an invaluable tool for studying the micro-and nanoworlds. As a stand-alone, high-resolution imaging technique and force transducer, it defies most other surface instrumentation in ease of use, sensitivity and versatility. The main strength of AFM relies on the possibility to operate in an aqueous environment on a wide variety of biological samples, from single molecules-DNA or proteins-to macromolecular assemblies like biological membranes. Understanding the effect of mechanical stress on membranes is of primary importance in biophysics, since cells are known to perform their function under a complex combination of forces. In the later years, AFM-based Force-Spectroscopy (AFM-FS) has provided a new vista on membrane mechanics in a confined area within the nanometer realm, where most of the specific molecular interactions take place. Lipid membranes are electrostatically charged entities that physiologically coexist with electrolyte solutions. Thus, specific interactions with ions are a matter of considerable interest. The distribution of ions in the solution and their interaction with the membranes are factors that substantially modify the structure and dynamics of the cell membranes. Furthermore, signaling processes are modified by the membrane capability of retaining ions. Supported Lipid Bilayers (SLBs) are a versatile tool to investigate phospholipid membranes mimicking biological surfaces. In the present contribution, we review selected experiments on the mechanical stability of SLBs as models of lipid membranes by means of AFM-FS, with special focus on the effect of cations and ionic strength in the overall nanomechanical stability.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Cations, Force spectroscopy, Lipid bilayer, Mechanical stability


Redondo-Morata, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2013). AFM-based force-clamp indentation: Force-clamp monitors the lipid bilayer failure kinetics Imaging & Microscopy 15, (4), 25-27

The lipid bilayer rupture was here explored by means of AFM-based force clamp. For the first time to our knowledge, this technique has been used to evaluate how lipid membranes respond when compressed under an external constant force in the range of nN. We were able to directly quantify the kinetics of the membrane rupture event and the associated energy barriers, in distinction to the classic studies performed at constant velocity.


Punet, X., Mauchauffé, R., Giannotti, M. I., Rodríguez-Cabello, J. C., Sanz, F., Engel, E., Mateos-Timoneda, M. A., Planell, J. A., (2013). Enhanced cell-material interactions through the biofunctionalization of polymeric surfaces with engineered peptides Biomacromolecules 14, (8), 2690-2702

Research on surface modification of polymeric materials to guide the cellular activity in biomaterials designed for tissue engineering applications has mostly focused on the use of natural extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins and short peptides, such as RGD. However, the use of engineered proteins can gather the advantages of these strategies and avoid the main drawbacks. In this study, recombinant engineered proteins called elastin-like recombinamers (ELRs) have been used to functionalize poly(lactic) acid (PLA) model surfaces. The structure of the ELRs has been designed to include the integrin ligand RGDS and the cross-linking module VPGKG. Surface functionalization has been characterized and optimized by means of ELISA and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The results suggest that ELR functionalization creates a nonfouling canvas able to restrict unspecific adsorption of proteins. Moreover, AFM analysis reveals the conformation and disposition of ELRs on the surface. Biological performance of PLA surfaces functionalized with ELRs has been studied and compared with the use of short peptides. Cell response has been assessed for different functionalization conditions in the presence and absence of the bovine serum albumin (BSA) protein, which could interfere with the surface?cell interaction by adsorbing on the interface. Studies have shown that ELRs are able to elicit higher rates of cell attachment, stronger cell anchorages and faster levels of proliferation than peptides. This work has demonstrated that the use of engineered proteins is a more efficient strategy to guide the cellular activity than the use of short peptides, because they not only allow for better cell attachment and proliferation, but also can provide more complex properties such as the creation of nonfouling surfaces. Research on surface modification of polymeric materials to guide the cellular activity in biomaterials designed for tissue engineering applications has mostly focused on the use of natural extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins and short peptides, such as RGD. However, the use of engineered proteins can gather the advantages of these strategies and avoid the main drawbacks. In this study, recombinant engineered proteins called elastin-like recombinamers (ELRs) have been used to functionalize poly(lactic) acid (PLA) model surfaces. The structure of the ELRs has been designed to include the integrin ligand RGDS and the cross-linking module VPGKG. Surface functionalization has been characterized and optimized by means of ELISA and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The results suggest that ELR functionalization creates a nonfouling canvas able to restrict unspecific adsorption of proteins. Moreover, AFM analysis reveals the conformation and disposition of ELRs on the surface. Biological performance of PLA surfaces functionalized with ELRs has been studied and compared with the use of short peptides. Cell response has been assessed for different functionalization conditions in the presence and absence of the bovine serum albumin (BSA) protein, which could interfere with the surface?cell interaction by adsorbing on the interface. Studies have shown that ELRs are able to elicit higher rates of cell attachment, stronger cell anchorages and faster levels of proliferation than peptides. This work has demonstrated that the use of engineered proteins is a more efficient strategy to guide the cellular activity than the use of short peptides, because they not only allow for better cell attachment and proliferation, but also can provide more complex properties such as the creation of nonfouling surfaces.


Perez Madrigal, M. M., Giannotti, M. I., Oncins, G., Franco, L., Armelin, E., Puiggali, J., Sanz, F., del Valle, L. J., Aleman, C., (2013). Bioactive nanomembranes of semiconductor polythiophene and thermoplastic polyurethane: thermal, nanostructural and nanomechanical properties Polymer Chemistry 4, (3), 568-583

Free-standing and supported nanomembranes have been prepared by spin-coating mixtures of a semiconducting polythiophene (P3TMA) derivative and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Thermal studies of TPU:P3TMA blends with 60 : 40, 50 : 50, 40 : 60 and 20 : 80 weight ratios indicate a partial miscibility of the two components. Analysis of the glass transition temperatures allowed us to identify the highest miscibility for the blend with a 40 : 60 weight ratio, this composition being used to prepare both self-standing and supported nanomembranes. The thickness of ultra-thin films made with the 40 : 60 blend ranged from 11 to 93 nm, while the average roughness was 16.3 +/- 0.8 nm. In these films the P3TMA-rich phase forms granules, which are dispersed throughout the rest of the film. Quantitative nanomechanical mapping has been used to determine the Young's modulus value by applying the Derjanguin-Muller-Toporov (DMT) contact mechanics model and the adhesion force of ultra-thin films. The modulus depends on the thickness of the films, values determined for the thicker (80-140 nm)/thinner (10-40 nm) regions of TPU, P3TMA and blend samples being 25/35 MPa, 3.5/12 GPa and 0.9/1.7 GPa, respectively. In contrast the adhesion force is homogeneous through the whole surface of the TPU and P3TMA films (average values: 7.2 and 5.0 nN, respectively), whereas for the blend it depends on the phase distribution. Thus, the adhesion force is higher for the TPU-rich domains than for the P3TMA-rich domains. Finally, the utility of the nanomembranes for tissue engineering applications has been proved by cellular proliferation assays. Results show that the blend is more active as a cellular matrix than each of the two individual polymers.


Lima, Lia M. C., Giannotti, M. I., Redondo-Morata, L., Vale, M. L. C., Marques, E. F., Sanz, F., (2013). Morphological and nanomechanical behavior of supported lipid bilayers on addition of cationic surfactants Langmuir 29, (30), 9352-9361

The addition of surfactants to lipid bilayers is important for the modulation of lipid bilayer properties (e.g., in protein reconstitution and development of nonviral gene delivery vehicles) and to provide insight on the properties of natural biomembranes. In this work, the thermal behavior, organization, and nanomechanical stability of model cationic lipid?surfactant bilayers have been investigated. Two different cationic surfactants, hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) and a novel derivative of the amino acid serine (Ser16TFAc), have been added (up to 50 mol %) to both liposomes and supported lipid bilayers (SLBs) composed by the zwitterionic phospholipid DPPC. The thermal phase behavior of mixed liposomes has been probed by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), and the morphology and nanomechanical properties of mixed SLBs by atomic force microscopy-based force spectroscopy (AFM-FS). Although DSC thermograms show different results for the two mixed liposomes, when both are deposited on mica substrates similar trends on the morphology and the mechanical response of the lipid?surfactant bilayers are observed. DSC thermograms indicate microdomain formation in both systems, but while CTAB decreases the degree of organization on the liposome bilayer, Ser16TFAc ultimately induces the opposite effect. Regarding the AFM-FS studies, they show that microphase segregation occurs for these systems and that the effect is dependent on the surfactant content. In both SLB systems, different microdomains characterized by their height and breakthrough force Fb are formed. The molecular organization and composition is critically discussed in the light of our experimental results and literature data on similar lipid?surfactant systems. The addition of surfactants to lipid bilayers is important for the modulation of lipid bilayer properties (e.g., in protein reconstitution and development of nonviral gene delivery vehicles) and to provide insight on the properties of natural biomembranes. In this work, the thermal behavior, organization, and nanomechanical stability of model cationic lipid?surfactant bilayers have been investigated. Two different cationic surfactants, hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) and a novel derivative of the amino acid serine (Ser16TFAc), have been added (up to 50 mol %) to both liposomes and supported lipid bilayers (SLBs) composed by the zwitterionic phospholipid DPPC. The thermal phase behavior of mixed liposomes has been probed by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), and the morphology and nanomechanical properties of mixed SLBs by atomic force microscopy-based force spectroscopy (AFM-FS). Although DSC thermograms show different results for the two mixed liposomes, when both are deposited on mica substrates similar trends on the morphology and the mechanical response of the lipid?surfactant bilayers are observed. DSC thermograms indicate microdomain formation in both systems, but while CTAB decreases the degree of organization on the liposome bilayer, Ser16TFAc ultimately induces the opposite effect. Regarding the AFM-FS studies, they show that microphase segregation occurs for these systems and that the effect is dependent on the surfactant content. In both SLB systems, different microdomains characterized by their height and breakthrough force Fb are formed. The molecular organization and composition is critically discussed in the light of our experimental results and literature data on similar lipid?surfactant systems.


Stocchi, A., Lauke, B., Giannotti, M. I., Vázquez, A., Bernal, C., (2013). Tensile response and fracture and failure behavior of jute fabrics-flyash-vinylester hybrid composites Fibers and Polymers 14, (2), 285-291

In this work, hybrid materials consisting on a vinylester matrix simultaneaously reinforced with jute woven fabrics and flyash particles were prepared. The tensile response and the fracture and failure behavior of these hybrid composites were investigated. Thermal stability of these materials was also studied. The aim was to obtain an environmentally friendly hybrid material with a good balance of tensile and fracture properties at relatively low cost. The effect of a novel treatment for the jute fabrics on the hybrids mechanical and fracture properties was investigated. The best balance of tensile and fracture properties was obtained for the hybrid consisting of fabrics treated with alkali under stress and fly ashes which also exhibited relatively high thermal stability.

Keywords: Natural fibers, Fly ash, Hybrid composite, Mechanical properties, Fracture


Redondo-Morata, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2012). AFM-based force-clamp monitors lipid bilayer failure kinetics Langmuir 28, (15), 6403-6410

The lipid bilayer rupture phenomenon is here explored by means of atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based force clamp, for the first time to our knowledge, to evaluate how lipid membranes respond when compressed under an external constant force, in the range of nanonewtons. Using this method, we were able to directly quantify the kinetics of the membrane rupture event and the associated energy barriers, for both single supported bilayers and multibilayers, in contradistinction to the classic studies performed at constant velocity. Moreover, the affected area of the membrane during the rupture process was calculated using an elastic deformation model. The elucidated information not only contributes to a better understanding of such relevant process, but also proves the suitability of AFM-based force clamp to study model structures as lipid bilayers. These findings on the kinetics of lipid bilayers rupture could be extended and applied to the study of other molecular thin films. Furthermore, systems of higher complexity such as models mimicking cell membranes could be studied by means of AFM-based force-clamp technique.

Keywords: Chain-Length, Spectroscopy, Nanomechanics, Microscopy, Elasticity, Stability, Membranes, Reveals, Fusion, Ions


Redondo-Morata, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2012). Influence of cholesterol on the phase transition of lipid bilayers: A temperature-controlled force spectroscopy study Langmuir 28, (35), 12851-12860

Cholesterol (Chol) plays the essential function of regulating the physical properties of the cell membrane by controlling the lipid organization and phase behavior and, thus, managing the membrane fluidity and its mechanical strength. Here, we explore the model system DPPC:Chol by means of temperature-controlled atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging and AFM-based force spectroscopy (AFM-FS) to assess the influence of Chol on the membrane ordering and stability. We analyze the system in a representative range of compositions up to 50 mol % Chol studying the phase evolution upon temperature increase (from room temperature to temperatures high above the T m of the DPPC bilayer) and the corresponding (nano)mechanical stability. By this means, we correlate the mechanical behavior and composition with the lateral order of each phase present in the bilayers. We prove that low Chol contents lead to a phase-segregated system, whereas high contents of Chol can give a homogeneous bilayer. In both cases, Chol enhances the mechanical stability of the membrane, and an extraordinarily stable system is observed for equimolar fractions (50 mol % Chol). In addition, even when no thermal transition is detected by the traditional bulk analysis techniques for liposomes with high Chol content (40 and 50 mol %), we demonstrate that temperature-controlled AFM-FS is capable of identifying a thermal transition for the supported lipid bilayers. Finally, our results validate the AFM-FS technique as an ideal platform to differentiate phase coexistence and transitions in lipid bilayers and bridge the gap between the results obtained by traditional methods for bulk analysis, the theoretical predictions, and the behavior of these systems at the nanoscale.


Redondo, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2012). Stability of lipid bilayers as model membranes: Atomic force microscopy and spectroscopy approach Atomic force microscopy in liquid (ed. Baró, A. M., Reifenberger, R. G.), Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co.KGaA (Weinheim, Germany) Part I: General Atomic Force Microscopy, 259-284

Giannotti, M. I., Esteban, O., Oliva, M., Garcia-Parajo, M. F., Sanz, F., (2011). pH-Responsive polysaccharide-based polyelectrolyte complexes as nanocarriers for lysosomal delivery of therapeutic proteins Biomacromolecules American Chemical Society 12, (7), 2524-2533

Nanopharmaceutics composed of a carrier and a protein have the potential to improve the activity of therapeutical proteins. Therapy for lysosomal diseases is limited by the lack of effective protein delivery systems that allow the controlled release of specific proteins to the lysosomes. Here we address this problem by developing functional polyelectrolyte-based nanoparticles able to promote acidic pH-triggered release of the loaded protein. Trimethyl chitosan (TMC) was synthesized and allowed to form polyelectrolyte complexes (PECs) with the lysosomal enzyme

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