Purpose of review: Atomic force microscopy has been used recently to characterize the adhesion force between selected calcium oxalate crystal surfaces and biologically relevant chemical groups attached to the atomic force microscopy probe tip. These measurements have permitted comparisons of the adhesion properties of different, well defined crystal faces, as well as determination of the influence of solution-phase macromolecules on adhesion. These studies have produced new insight into the specific chemical interactions that regulate kidney stone formation.
Recent findings: The adhesion force measurements have demonstrated that the large hexagonal (100) face of calcium oxalate monohydrate is the most adhesive. In contrast, the large (101) face of calcium oxalate dihydrate is the least adhesive. Carboxylate and amidinium groups on the atomic force microscopy tip exhibit equivalently large adhesion at a given crystal face, implicating specific binding to crystal surface lattice ions. Solution-phase macromolecules modulate adhesion in a face-selective manner, dependent on their chemical structures.
Summary: The low adhesion force for calcium oxalate dihydrate predicts a decreased ability of these crystals to aggregate or attach to cells, and correlates with the relative absence of calcium oxalate dihydrate in kidney stones. These measurements provide new understanding of the macromolecular regulation of crystal aggregation and attachment to cells in stone formation.