Deborah Leckband


  • Title: Professor
  • Group: 3D Micro- and Nanosystems
  • Status: Beckman Part-time Faculty
  • Home: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering



Deborah Leckband received her Ph.D. from Cornell University. She is an associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the U of I and a part-time faculty member in the Beckman Institute 3D Micro- and Nanosystems group. Her fields of professional interest are molecular force measurements, biological interactions, bioadhesion, and interfacial phenomena in biology.


U of I Center for Advanced Studies Fellow (1999-2000); Petit Professor, UIUC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (1999-2000); Amoco Lecturer, Stanford University Department of Chemical Engineering (1998); Xerox Faculty Research Award, U of I College of Engineering (1998); NSF CAREER Award (1995-1999); NIH FIRST Award (1993-1998); NSF Research Initiation Award (1993-1996); NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship (1989-1991); NIH Pre-doctoral Fellowship (1983-1987); Award for Excellence, Analytical Division of the American Chemical Society (1982); Scholarship, Society for Applied Spectroscopy (1981); Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) (2015). 


Leckband's research focuses on determining and controlling the physical mechanisms that govern how biological molecules and cells interact with both biological and synthetic surfaces. To do this, they use force probe measurements to quantify the molecular forces that operate between materials. The ranges and magnitudes of the forces as well as their time evolution determine, for example, whether the materials adhere, are repelled, and whether these interactions change with time. This fundamental information enables this group to identify key interactions that mediate cell adhesion, for example, and to manipulate those interactions by controlling the composition and architecture of the materials of interest.

The increased use of high density, macromolecular arrays and biosensors, for example, has created an enormous need for new materials that can be used to immobilize high densities of biological molecules without loss of function. Leckband's investigations with direct force measurements have quantified the forces generated by thin polymer films and their influence on both immobilized receptor activity and the binding of soluble analytes. Although interference by the supporting material is undesired in many sensor applications, environmentally responsive "smart" polymeric materials can be used to alter the material-biomolecule interface on demand. Leckband's group is exploring how controlled changes in interfacial properties of these materials can be exploited to selectively encrypt sensing molecules in response to changes in, for example, pH or temperature.

With the broad-based knowledge in Professor Leckband's laboratory of the physical chemical and biochemical interactions that control the biology-material interface, this group is exploiting these findings to rationally manipulate cellular interactions with engineered substrates for tissue and neural engineering. By combining the tools of surface science, biophysics, and cell biology, they are developing novel methods of patterning active biological molecules on solid surfaces in order to control cell responses to those materials. Some of their efforts are focused on controlling the spatial arrangement and signaling activity of neurons on micropatterned substrates.

Leckband's sources of research support are the NSF, DARPA, NIH, and the UIUC Campus Research Initiative.


  • 2016
    • Muhamed, I.; Wu, J.; Sehgal, P.; Kong, X. Y.; Tajik, A.; Wang, N.; Leckband, D. E., E-Cadherin-Mediated Force Transduction Signals Regulate Global Cell Mechanics. Journal of Cell Science 2016, 129, (9), 1843-1854.
    • Shashikanth, N.; Kisting, M. A.; Leckband, D. E., Kinetic Measurements Reveal Enhanced Protein-Protein Interactions at Intercellular Junctions. Scientific Reports 2016, 6.
    • Wang, X. F.; Rahil, Z.; Li, I. T. S.; Chowdhury, F.; Leckband, D. E.; Chemla, Y. R.; Ha, T., Constructing Modular and Universal Single Molecule Tension Sensor Using Protein G to Study Mechano-Sensitive Receptors. Scientific Reports 2016, 6.
  • 2015
    • Kim, T. J.; Zheng, S.; Sun, J.; Muhamed, I.; Wu, J.; Lei, L.; Kong, X. Y.; Leckband, D. E.; Wang, Y. X., Dynamic Visualization of Alpha-Catenin Reveals Rapid, Reversible Conformation Switching between Tension States. Current Biology 2015, 25, (2), 218-224, DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2014.11.017.

    • Escobar, D. J.; Desai, R.; Ishiyama, N.; Folmsbee, S. S.; Novak, M. N.; Flozak, A. S.; Daugherty, R. L.; Mo, R. G.; Nanavati, D.; Sarpal, R.; Leckband, D.; Ikura, M.; Tepass, U.; Gottardi, C. J., Alpha-Catenin Phosphorylation Promotes Intercellular Adhesion through a Dual-Kinase Mechanism. Journal of Cell Science 2015, 128, (6), 1150-1165, DOI:10.1242/Jcs.163824.

    • Barry, A. K.; Wang, N.; Leckband, D. E., Local Ve-Cadherin Mechanotransduction Triggers Long-Ranged Remodeling of Endothelial Monolayers. Journal of Cell Science 2015, 128, (7), 1341-1351, DOI:10.1242/Jcs.159954.

    • Choi, S.; Camp, S. M.; Dan, A.; Garcia, J. G. N.; Dudek, S. M.; Leckband, D. E., A Genetic Variant of Cortactin Linked to Acute Lung Injury Impairs Lamellipodia Dynamics and Endothelial Wound Healing. American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology 2015, 309, (9), L983-L994.
    • Epshtein, Y.; Chen, W.; Choi, S.; Cress, A.; Garcia, J.; Leckband, D. E.; Jacobson, J. R., Ilung Endothelial Cell Barrier Responses to Mechanical Stress Are Mediated by Itgb4. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2015, 191.
    • Li, J.; Newhall, J.; Ishiyama, N.; Gottardi, C.; Ikura, M.; Leckband, D. E.; Tajkhorshid, E., Structural Determinants of the Mechanical Stability of Alpha-Catenin. Journal of Biological Chemistry 2015, 290, (31), 18890-18903.
    • Shashikanth, N.; Petrova, Y. I.; Park, S.; Chekan, J.; Maiden, S.; Spano, M.; Ha, T.; Gumbiner, B. M.; Leckband, D. E., Allosteric Regulation of E-Cadherin Adhesion. Journal of Biological Chemistry 2015, 290, (35), 21749-21761.
    • Shashikanth, N.; Kisting, M.; Leckband, D., Lateral Interactions Affect Cadherin Binding Kinetics and Function. Biophysical Journal 2015, 108, (2), 223a-223a.
  • 2014
    • Barry, A. K.; Tabdili, H.; Muhamed, I.; Wu, J.; Shashikanth, N.; Gomez, G. A.; Yap, A. S.; Gottardi, C. J.; de Rooij, J.; Wang, N.; Leckband, D. E., Alpha-Catenin Cytomechanics - Role in Cadherin-Dependent Adhesion and Mechanotransduction. Journal of Cell Science 2014, 127, (8), 1779-1791, DOI: 10.1242/jcs.139014.

    • Vega, J. C. M.; Lee, M. K.; Jeong, J. H.; Smith, C. E.; Lee, K. Y.; Chung, H. J.; Leckband, D. E.; Kong, H., Recapitulating Cell-Cell Adhesion Using N-Cadherin Biologically Tethered to Substrates. Biomacromolecules 2014, 15, (6), 2172-2179, DOI:10.1021/Bm500335w.

    • Parreira, P.; Shi, Q.; Magalhaes, A.; Reis, C. A.; Bugaytsova, J.; Boren, T.; Leckband, D.; Martins, M. C. L., Atomic Force Microscopy Measurements Reveal Multiple Bonds between Helicobacter Pylori Blood Group Antigen Binding Adhesin and Lewis B Ligand. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 2014, 11, (101), DOI:Unsp 20141040 DOI:10.1098/Rsif.2014.1040.

    • Leckband, D. E.; de Rooij, J., Cadherin Adhesion and Mechanotransduction. Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, Vol 30 2014, 30, 291-315, DOI:10.1146/annurev-cellbio-100913-013212.

    • Escobar, D.; Desai, R.; Ishiyama, N.; Flozak, A.; Folmsbee, S. S.; Daugherty, R.; Mo, R.; Wu, J.; Leckband, D.; Nanavati, D.; Ikura, M.; Tepass, U.; Gottardi, C., Catenin Coordinates Epithelial Migration and Tissue Morphogenesis through a Dual-Kinase/Phosphorylation Mechanism. Molecular Biology of the Cell 2014, 25.

  • 2013
    • Choi, B. C.; Choi, S.; Leckband, D. E., Poly(N-Isopropyl Acrylamide) Brush Topography: Dependence on Grafting Conditions and Temperature. Langmuir 2013, 29, (19), 5841-5850, DOI: 10.1021/la400066d.

    • Choi, S.; Choi, B. C.; Xue, C. Y.; Leckband, D., Protein Adsorption Mechanisms Determine the Efficiency of Thermally Controlled Cell Adhesion on Poly(N-isopropyl acrylamide) Brushes. Biomacromolecules 2013, 14, (1), 92-100.

    • Leckband, D., Cell Adhesion: Sizing up a Sticky Situation. Current Biology 2013, 23, (22), R1008-R1011, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.018.

    • Leckband, D., Formin' Cables under Stress. Nature Cell Biology 2013, 15, (4), 345-346.

    • Parreira, P.; Magalhaes, A.; Reis, C. A.; Boren, T.; Leckband, D.; Martins, M. C. L., Bioengineered Surfaces Promote Specific Protein-Glycan Mediated Binding of the Gastric Pathogen Helicobacter Pylori. Acta Biomaterialia 2013, 9, (11), 8885-8893, DOI: 10.1016/j.actbio.2013.06.042.

  • 2012
    • Brouette, N.; Xue, C.; Haertlein, M.; Moulin, M.; Fragneto, G.; Leckband, D. E.; Halperin, A.; Sferrazza, M., Protein Adsorption Properties of OEG Monolayers and Dense PNIPAM Brushes Probed by Neutron Reflectivity. European Physical Journal-Special Topics 2012, 213, (1), 343-353.

    • Leckband, D.; Sivasankar, S., Cadherin Recognition and Adhesion. Current Opinion in Cell Biology 2012, 24, (5), 620-627.

    • Tabdili, H.; Barry, A. K.; Langer, M. D.; Chien, Y. H.; Shi, Q. M.; Lee, K. J.; Lu, S. Y.; Leckband, D. E., Cadherin Point Mutations Alter Cell Sorting and Modulate GTPase Signaling. Journal of Cell Science 2012, 125, (14), 3299-3309.

    • Tabdili, H.; Langer, M.; Shi, Q. M.; Poh, Y. C.; Wang, N.; Leckband, D., Cadherin-Dependent Mechanotransduction Depends on Ligand Identity but Not Affinity. Journal of Cell Science 2012, 125, (18), 4362-4371.

    • Twiss, F.; Le Duc, Q.; Van Der Horst, S.; Tabdili, H.; Van Der Krogt, G.; Wang, N.; Rehmann, H.; Huveneers, S.; Leckband, D. E., Vinculin-Dependent Cadherin Mechanosensing Regulates Efficient Epithelial Barrier Formation. Biology Open 2012, 1, (11), 1128-1140.

    • Xue, C. Y.; Choi, B. C.; Choi, S.; Braun, P. V.; Leckband, D. E., Protein Adsorption Modes Determine Reversible Cell Attachment on Poly(N-Isopropyl Acrylamide) Brushes. Advanced Functional Materials 2012, 22, (11), 2394-2401.

  • 2011
    • Niessen, C. M.; Leckband, D.; Yap, A. S., Tissue Organization by Cadherin Adhesion Molecules: Dynamic Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms of Morphogenetic Regulation. Physiological Reviews 2011, 91, (2), 691-731.

    • Wuang, S. C.; Neoh, K. G.; Kang, E. T.; Leckband, D. E.; Pack, D. W., Acid-Sensitive Magnetic Nanoparticles as Potential Drug Depots. AIChE Journal 2011, 57, (6), 1638-1645. 

    • Andreasson-Ochsner, M.; Romano, G.; Hakanson, M.; Smith, M. L.; Leckband, D. E.; Textor, M.; Reimhult, E., Single Cell 3-D Platform to Study Ligand Mobility in Cell-Cell Contact. Lab on a Chip 2011, 11, (17), 2876-2883.

    • Leckband, D. E., Novel Functions and Binding Mechanisms of Carbohydrate-Binding Proteins Determined by Force Measurements. Current Protein & Peptide Science 2011, 12, (8), 743-759.

    • Leckband, D. E.; le Duc, Q.; Wang, N.; de Rooij, J., Mechanotransduction at Cadherin-Mediated Adhesions. Current Opinion in Cell Biology 2011, 23, (5), 523-530.

    • Leckband, D. E.; Menon, S.; Rosenberg, K.; Graham, S. A.; Taylor, M. E.; Drickamer, K., Geometry and Adhesion of Extracellular Domains of DC-SIGNR Neck Length Variants Analyzed by Force-Distance Measurements. Biochemistry 2011, 50, (27), 6125-6132.

    • Parreira, P.; Magalhaes, A.; Goncalves, I. C.; Gomes, J.; Vidal, R.; Reis, C. A.; Leckband, D. E.; Martins, M. C. L., Effect of Surface Chemistry on Bacterial Adhesion, Viability, and Morphology. Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part A 2011, 99A, (3), 344-353.

    • Xue, C. Y.; Yonet-Tanyeri, N.; Brouette, N.; Sferrazza, M.; Braun, P. V.; Leckband, D. E., Protein Adsorption on Poly(N-Isopropylacrylamide) Brushes: Dependence on Grafting Density and Chain Collapse. Langmuir 2011, 27, (14), 8810-8818.

  • 2010
    • Shi, Q. M.; Maruthamuthu, V.; Li, F.; Leckband, D., Allosteric Cross Talk between Cadherin Extracellular Domains. Biophysical Journal 2010, 99, (1), 95-104. 

    • Leckband, D., Design Rules for Biomolecular Adhesion: Lessons from Force Measurements. In Annual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, 2010; Vol. 1, pp 365-389.

    • Li, D.; Zhou, J. X.; Wang, L.; Shin, M. E.; Su, P.; Lei, X. H.; Kuang, H. B.; Guo, W. X.; Yang, H.; Cheng, L. Z.; Tanaka, T. S.; Leckband, D. E.; Reynolds, A. B.; Duan, E. K.; Wang, F., Integrated biochemical and mechanical signals regulate multifaceted human embryonic stem cell functions. Journal of Cell Biology 2010, 191, (3), 631-644.

    • Mann, C.; Leckband, D., Measuring Traction Forces in Long-Term Cell Cultures. Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering 2010, 3, (1), 40-49.

  • 2009
    • Menon, S.; Rosenberg, K.; Graham, S. A.; Ward, E. M.; Taylor, M. E.; Drickamer, K.; Leckband, D. E., Binding-site geometry and flexibility in DC-SIGN demonstrated with surface force measurements. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2009, 106, (28), 11524-11529.

    • Parreira, P.; Reis, C. A.; Magalhaes, A.; Leckband, D.; Martins, M. C. L., Immobilization of a Specific Receptor for H. pylori Using Model Surfaces. Helicobacter 2009, 14, (4), 410-411.

    • Silvestre, J.; Kenis, P. J. A.; Leckband, D. E., Cadherin and Integrin Regulation of Epithelial Cell Migration. Langmuir 2009, 25, (17), 10092-10099.

    • Maruthamuthu, V.; Schulten, K.; Leckband, D., Elasticity and Rupture of a Multi-Domain Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule Complex. Biophysical Journal 2009, 96, (8), 3005-3014.

  • 2008
    • Parreira, P.; Reis, C. A.; Magalhaes, A.; Leckband, D.; Martins, C. L., H-pylori adhesion to gold, hydrophilic, and hydrophobic self-assembled monolayers (SAMs). Helicobacter 2008, 13, (5), 415-415.

    • Shi, Q. M.; Chien, Y. H.; Leckband, D., Biophysical properties of cadherin bonds do not predict cell sorting. Journal of Biological Chemistry 2008, 283, (42), 28454-28463.

    • Wuang, S. C.; Neoh, K. G.; Kang, E. T.; Pack, D. W.; Leckband, D. E., HER-2-mediated endocytosis of magnetic nanospheres and the implications in cell targeting and particle magnetization. Biomaterials 2008, 29, (14), 2270-2279.

    • Chien, Y. H.; Jiang, N.; Li, F.; Zhang, F.; Zhu, C.; Leckband, D., Two stage cadherin kinetics require multiple extracellular domains but not the cytoplasmic region. Journal of Biological Chemistry 2008, 283, (4), 1848-1856.

    • Leckband, D., Beyond structure: mechanism and dynamics of intercellular adhesion. Biochemical Society Transactions 2008, 36, 213-220.

    • Chowdhury, F.; Na, S.; Collin, O.; Tay, B.; Li, F.; Tanaka, T.; Leckband, D. E.; Wang, N., Is Cell Rheology Governed by Nonequilibrium-to-Equilibrium Transition of Noncovalent Bonds? Biophysical Journal 2008, 95, (12), 5719-5727.

  • 2007
    • Pierres, A.; Prakasam, A.; Touchard, D.; Benoliel, A. M.; Bongrand, P.; Leckband, D., Dissecting subsecond cadherin bound states reveals an efficient way for cells to achieve ultrafast probing of their environment. FEBS Letters 2007, 581, (9), 1841-1846.

    • Wuang, S. C.; Neoh, K. G.; Kang, E. T.; Pack, D. W.; Leckband, D. E., Synthesis and functionalization of polypyrrole-Fe3O4 nanoparticles for applications in biomedicine. Journal of Materials Chemistry 2007, 17, (31), 3354-3362.

    • Zhu, X.; Yan, C.; Winnik, F. M.; Leckband, D., End-grafted low-molecular-weight PNIPAM does not collapse above the LCST. Langmuir 2007, 23, (1), 162-169.

    • Wuang, S. C.; Neoh, K. G.; Kang, E. T.; Pack, D. W.; Leckband, D. E., Polypyrrole nanospheres with magnetic and cell-targeting capabilities. Macromolecular Rapid Communications 2007, 28, (7), 816-821.

    • Bayas, M. V.; Kearney, A.; Avramovic, A.; van der Merwe, P. A.; Leckband, D. E., Impact of salt bridges on the equilibrium binding and adhesion of human CD2 and CD58. Journal of Biological Chemistry 2007, 282, (8), 5589-5596.

    • Dong, R.; Jensen, T. W.; Engberg, K.; Nuzzo, R. G.; Leckband, D. E., Variably elastic hydrogel patterned via capillary action in microchannels. Langmuir 2007, 23, (3), 1483-1488.

    • Zarnitsyna, V. I.; Huang, J.; Zhang, F.; Chien, Y. H.; Leckband, D.; Zhu, C., Memory in receptor-ligand-mediated cell adhesion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2007, 104, (46), 18037-18042.

  • 2006
    • Leckband, D.; Prakasam, A., Mechanism and dynamics of cadherin adhesion. Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering 2006, 8, 259-287.

    • Li, F.; Leckband, D., Dynamic strength of molecularly bonded surfaces. Journal of Chemical Physics 2006, 125, (19).

    • Prakasam, A.; Chien, Y. H.; Maruthamuthu, V.; Leckband, D. E., Calcium site mutations in cadherin: Impact on adhesion and evidence of cooperativity. Biochemistry 2006, 45, (22), 6930-6939.

    • Prakasam, A. K.; Maruthamuthu, V.; Leckband, D. E., Similarities between heterophilic and homophilic cadherin adhesion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2006, 103, (42), 15434-15439.

    • Wuang, S. C.; Neoh, K. G.; Kang, E. T.; Pack, D. W.; Leckband, D. E., Heparinized magnetic nanoparticles: In-vitro assessment for biomedical applications. Advanced Functional Materials 2006, 16, (13), 1723-1730.

  • 2000
    • Leckband, D. (2000, in press), "Direct Measurements of the Forces that Control Protein Interactions," Annual Review of Biophysical and Biomolecular Structure.

  • 1999
    • Leckband, D., Sheth, S. R., and Halperin, A. (1999), "Grafted Poly(ethylene oxide) Brushes as Nonfouling Surface Coatings," Journal of Biomaterials Science. Polymer Edition, 10, pp. 1125-1147.

    • Vijayendran, R., Ligler, F. S., and Leckband, D. (1999), "A Computational Transport-kinetic Model for the Analysis of Transport-limited Biosensor Data," Analytical Chemistry, 71, p. 5455412.

    • Sivasankar, S., Brieher, W., Lavrik, N., Gumbiner, B., and D. Leckband, D. (1999), "Direct Force Measurements of Multiple Adhesive Interactions Between Cadherin Ectodomains," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 96, pp. 11820-11824.


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