Retrotaxis of human neutrophils during mechanical confinement inside microfluidic channels
The current paradigm of unidirectional migration of neutrophils from circulation to sites of injury in tissues has been recently challenged by observations in zebrafish showing that neutrophils can return from tissues back into the circulation. However, the relevance of these observations to human neutrophils remains unclear, the forward and reverse migration of neutrophils is difficult to quantify, and the precise conditions modulating the reverse migration cannot be isolated. Here, we designed a microfluidic platform inside which we observed human neutrophil migration in response to chemoattractant sources inside channels, simulating the biochemical and mechanical confinement conditions at sites of injury in tissues. We observed that, after initially following the direction of chemoattractant gradients, more than 90% of human neutrophils can reverse their direction and migrate persistently and for distances longer than one thousand micrometers away from chemoattractant sources (retrotaxis). Retrotaxis is enhanced in the presence of lipoxin A4 (LXA4), a well-established mediator of inflammation resolution, or Tempol, a standard antioxidant. Retrotaxis stops after neutrophils encounter targets which they phagocytise or on surfaces presenting high concentrations of fibronectin. Our microfluidic model suggests a new paradigm for neutrophil accumulation at sites of inflammation, which depends on the balance of three simultaneous processes: chemotaxis along diffusion gradients, retrotaxis following mechanical guides, and stopping triggered by phagocytosis.