Unrevealed part of myosin's powerstroke accounts for high efficiency of muscle contraction.
We describe a dual-trap force-clamp configuration that applies constant loads between a binding protein and an intermittently interacting biological polymer. The method has a measurement delay of only ∼10 μs, allows detection of interactions as brief as ∼100 μs and probes sub-nanometer conformational changes with a time resolution of tens of microseconds. We tested our method on molecular motors and DNA-binding proteins. We could apply constant loads to a single motor domain of myosin before its working stroke was initiated (0.2–1 ms), thus directly measuring its load dependence. We found that, depending on the applied load, myosin weakly interacted (<1 ms) with actin without production of movement, fully developed its working stroke or prematurely detached (<5 ms), thus reducing the working stroke size with load. Our technique extends single-molecule force-clamp spectroscopy and opens new avenues for investigating the effects of forces on biological processes.