Surface electrostatic effects in oligonucleotide microarrays: Control and optimization of binding thermodynamics

Arnold Vainrub, B. Montgomery Pettitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


We present a theoretical thermodynamic framework for the design of more efficient oligonucleotide microarrays. A general thermodynamic relation is derived to describe the electrostatic surface effects on the binding of the assayed biomolecule to a surface-tethered molecular probe. The relation is applied to analyze how the nucleic acid target, the oligonuleotide probe, and their DNA duplex electrostatic interactions with the surface affect the hybridization on DNA arrays. Taking advantage of a closed form exact solution of the linear Poisson-Boltzmann equation for a charged ion-penetrable sphere in electrolyte solution interacting with a plane wall, we study the effects of the surface and solution conditions. Binding free energy is found as a function of the surface material, dielectric or metal, the surface charge density, linker molecule length, temperature, and added salt content. The charge or electric potential of the dielectric or metal surface, respectively, is shown to dominate the hybridization, especially at low added salt or short linker length. We predict that substantial enhancement of sensitivity, selectivity, and reliability of microarrays can be achieved by control of the surface conditions. As examples, we discuss how to overcome two limitations of current technologies: nonequal sensitivity of the probes with different GC and AT bases content, and poor match/mismatch discrimination. In addition, we suggest the design of microarray conditions where the tested nucleic acid is unfolded, thus making possible the screening of a larger sequence with single nucleotide resolution. These promising findings are discussed and further experimental tests suggested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-270
Number of pages6
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Electrostatic surface effects
  • Oligonucleotide microarrays
  • Theoretical thermodynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Organic Chemistry


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