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The process of cell differentiation in a developing embryo is influenced by numerous factors, including various biological molecules whose presentation varies dramatically over space and time. These morphogens regulate cell fate based on concentration profiles, thus creating discrete populations of cells and ultimately generating large, complex tissues and organs. Recently, several in vitro platforms have attempted to recapitulate the complex presentation of extrinsic signals found in nature. However, it has been a challenge to design versatile platforms that can dynamically control morphogen gradients over extended periods of time. To address some of these issues, we introduce a platform using channels patterned in hydrogels to deliver multiple morphogens to cells in a 3D scaffold, thus creating a spectrum of cell phenotypes based on the resultant morphogen gradients. The diffusion coefficient of a common small molecule morphogen, retinoic acid (RA), was measured within our hydrogel platform using Raman spectroscopy and its diffusion in our platform's geometry was modeled using finite element analysis. The predictive model of spatial gradients was validated in a cell-free hydrogel, and temporal control of morphogen gradients was then demonstrated using a reporter cell line that expresses green fluorescent protein in the presence of RA. Finally, the utility of this approach for regulating cell phenotype was demonstrated by generating opposing morphogen gradients to create a spectrum of mesenchymal stem cell differentiation states.
A flow-through sensing platform based on open-ended porous silicon (PSi) microcavity membranes that are compatible with integration in on-chip sensor arrays is demonstrated. Because of the high aspect ratio of PSi nanopores, the performance of closed-ended PSi sensors is limited by infiltration challenges and slow sensor responses when detecting large molecules such as proteins and nucleic acids. In order to improve molecule transport efficiency and reduce sensor response time, open-ended PSi nanopore membranes were used in a flow-through sensing scheme, allowing analyte solutions to pass through the nanopores. The molecular binding kinetics in these PSi membranes were compared through experiments and simulation with those from closed-ended PSi films of comparable thickness in a conventional flow-over sensing scheme. The flow-through PSi membrane resulted in a 6-fold improvement in sensor response time when detecting a high molecular weight analyte (streptavidin) versus in the flow-over PSi approach. This work demonstrates the possibility of integrating multiple flow-through PSi sensor membranes within parallel microarrays for rapid and multiplexed label-free biosensing.
Microfluidic devices have very broad applications in biological assays from simple chemotaxis assays to much more complicated 3D bioreactors. In this chapter, we describe the design and methods for performing chemotaxis assays using simple microfluidic chemotaxis chambers. With these devices, using real-time video microscopy we can examine the chemotactic responses of neutrophil-like cells under conditions of varying gradient steepness or flow rate and then utilize software programs to calculate the speed and angles of cell migration as gradient steepness and flow are varied. Considering the shearing force generated on the cells by the constant flow that is required to produce and maintain a stable gradient, the trajectories of the cell migration will reflect the net result of both shear force generated by flow and the chemotactic force resulting from the chemokine gradient. Moreover, the effects of mutations in chemokine receptors or the presence of inhibitors of intracellular signals required for gradient sensing can be evaluated in real time. We also describe a method to monitor intracellular signals required for cells to alter cell polarity in response to an abrupt switch in gradient direction. Lastly, we demonstrate an in vitro method for studying the interactions of human cancer cells with human endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and leukocytes, as well as environmental chemokines and cytokines, using 3D microbioreactors that mimic the in vivo microenvironment.
© 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
We report on a microfluidic platform for culture of whole organs or tissue slices with the capability of point access reagent delivery to probe the transport of signaling events. Whole mice retina were maintained for multiple days with negative pressure applied to tightly but gently bind the bottom of the retina to a thin poly-(dimethylsiloxane) membrane, through which twelve 100 μm diameter through-holes served as fluidic access points. Staining with toluidine blue, transport of locally applied cholera toxin beta, and transient response to lipopolysaccharide in the retina demonstrated the capability of the microfluidic platform. The point access fluidic delivery capability could enable new assays in the study of various kinds of excised tissues, including retina.
BACKGROUND - Maternal immune activation and subsequent interleukin-6 (IL-6) induction disrupt normal brain development and predispose the offspring to developing autism and schizophrenia. While several proteins have been identified as having some link to these developmental disorders, their prevalence is still small and their causative role, if any, is not well understood. However, understanding the metabolic consequences of environmental predisposing factors could shed light on disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
METHODS - To gain a better understanding of the metabolic consequences of IL-6 exposure on developing central nervous system (CNS) cells, we separately exposed developing neuron and astroglia cultures to IL-6 for 2 hours while collecting effluent from our gravity-fed microfluidic chambers. By coupling microfluidic technologies to ultra-performance liquid chromatography-ion mobility-mass spectrometry (UPLC-IM-MS), we were able to characterize the metabolic response of these CNS cells to a narrow window of IL-6 exposure.
RESULTS - Our results revealed that 1) the use of this technology, due to its superb media volume:cell volume ratio, is ideally suited for analysis of cell-type-specific exometabolome signatures; 2) developing neurons have low secretory activity at baseline, while astroglia show strong metabolic activity; 3) both neurons and astroglia respond to IL-6 exposure in a cell type-specific fashion; 4) the astroglial response to IL-6 stimulation is predominantly characterized by increased levels of metabolites, while neurons mostly depress their metabolic activity; and 5) disturbances in glycerophospholipid metabolism and tryptophan/kynurenine metabolite secretion are two putative mechanisms by which IL-6 affects the developing nervous system.
CONCLUSIONS - Our findings are potentially critical for understanding the mechanism by which IL-6 disrupts brain function, and they provide information about the molecular cascade that links maternal immune activation to developmental brain disorders.
Cytometric studies utilizing flow cytometry or multi-well culture plate fluorometry are often limited by a deficit in temporal resolution and a lack of single cell consideration. Unfortunately, many cellular processes, including signaling, motility, and molecular transport, occur transiently over relatively short periods of time and at different magnitudes between cells. Here we demonstrate the multitrap nanophysiometer (MTNP), a low-volume microfluidic platform housing an array of cell traps, as an effective tool that can be used to study individual unattached cells over time with precise control over the intercellular microenvironment. We show how the MTNP platform can be used for hematologic cancer cell characterization by measuring single T cell levels of CRAC channel modulation, non-translational motility, and ABC-transporter inhibition via a calcein-AM efflux assay. The transporter data indicate that Jurkat T cells exposed to indomethacin continue to accumulate fluorescent calcein for over 60 minutes after calcein-AM is removed from the extracellular space.
The blood-brain barrier (BBB) dynamically controls exchange between the brain and the body, but this interaction cannot be studied directly in the intact human brain or sufficiently represented by animal models. Most existing in vitro BBB models do not include neurons and glia with other BBB elements and do not adequately predict drug efficacy and toxicity. Under the National Institutes of Health Microtissue Initiative, we are developing a three-dimensional, multicompartment, organotypic microphysiological system representative of a neurovascular unit of the brain. The neurovascular unit system will serve as a model to study interactions between the central nervous system neurons and the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) compartment, all coupled to a realistic blood-surrogate supply and venous return system that also incorporates circulating immune cells and the choroid plexus. Hence all three critical brain barriers will be recapitulated: blood-brain, brain-CSF, and blood-CSF. Primary and stem cell-derived human cells will interact with a variety of agents to produce critical chemical communications across the BBB and between brain regions. Cytomegalovirus, a common herpesvirus, will be used as an initial model of infections regulated by the BBB. This novel technological platform, which combines innovative microfluidics, cell culture, analytical instruments, bioinformatics, control theory, neuroscience, and drug discovery, will replicate chemical communication, molecular trafficking, and inflammation in the brain. The platform will enable targeted and clinically relevant nutritional and pharmacologic interventions for or prevention of such chronic diseases as obesity and acute injury such as stroke, and will uncover potential adverse effects of drugs. If successful, this project will produce clinically useful technologies and reveal new insights into how the brain receives, modifies, and is affected by drugs, other neurotropic agents, and diseases.
A microcompressor is a precision mechanical device that flattens and immobilizes living cells and small organisms for optical microscopy, allowing enhanced visualization of sub-cellular structures and organelles. We have developed an easily fabricated device, which can be equipped with microfluidics, permitting the addition of media or chemicals during observation. This device can be used on both upright and inverted microscopes. The apparatus permits micrometer precision flattening for nondestructive immobilization of specimens as small as a bacterium, while also accommodating larger specimens, such as Caenorhabditis elegans, for long-term observations. The compressor mount is removable and allows easy specimen addition and recovery for later observation. Several customized specimen beds can be incorporated into the base. To demonstrate the capabilities of the device, we have imaged numerous cellular events in several protozoan species, in yeast cells, and in Drosophila melanogaster embryos. We have been able to document previously unreported events, and also perform photobleaching experiments, in conjugating Tetrahymena thermophila.
A microfluidic cell co-culture platform that uses a liquid fluorocarbon oil barrier to separate cells into different culture chambers has been developed. Characterization indicates that the oil barrier could be effective for multiple days, and a maximum pressure difference between the oil barrier and aqueous media in the cell culture chamber could be as large as ~3.43 kPa before the oil barrier fails. Biological applications have been demonstrated with the separate transfection of two groups of primary hippocampal neurons with two different fluorescent proteins and subsequent observation of synaptic contacts between the neurons. In addition, the quality of the fluidic seal provided by the oil barrier is shown to be greater than that of an alternative solid-PDMS valve barrier design by testing the ability of each device to block low molecular weight CellTracker dyes used to stain cells in the culture chambers.
Release of neurotransmitters and hormones by calcium-regulated exocytosis is a fundamental cellular process that is disrupted in a variety of psychiatric, neurological, and endocrine disorders. As such, there is significant interest in targeting neurosecretion for drug and therapeutic development, efforts that will be aided by novel analytical tools and devices that provide mechanistic insight coupled with increased experimental throughput. Here, we report a simple, inexpensive, reusable, microfluidic device designed to analyze catecholamine secretion from small populations of adrenal chromaffin cells in real time, an important neuroendocrine component of the sympathetic nervous system and versatile neurosecretory model. The device is fabricated by replica molding of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) using patterned photoresist on silicon wafer as the master. Microfluidic inlet channels lead to an array of U-shaped "cell traps", each capable of immobilizing single or small groups of chromaffin cells. The bottom of the device is a glass slide with patterned thin film platinum electrodes used for electrochemical detection of catecholamines in real time. We demonstrate reliable loading of the device with small populations of chromaffin cells, and perfusion/repetitive stimulation with physiologically relevant secretagogues (carbachol, PACAP, KCl) using the microfluidic network. Evoked catecholamine secretion was reproducible over multiple rounds of stimulation, and graded as expected to different concentrations of secretagogue or removal of extracellular calcium. Overall, we show this microfluidic device can be used to implement complex stimulation paradigms and analyze the amount and kinetics of catecholamine secretion from small populations of neuroendocrine cells in real time.