The microfluidic lighthouse: an omnidirectional gradient generator
Studies of chemotactic cell migration rely heavily on various assay systems designed to evaluate the ability of cells to move in response to attractant molecules. In particular, the development of microfluidics-based devices in recent years has made it possible to spatially distribute attractant molecules in graded profiles that are sufficiently stable and precise to test theoretical predictions regarding the accuracy and efficiency of chemotaxis and the underlying mechanism of stimulus perception. However, because the gradient is fixed in a direction orthogonal to the laminar flow and thus the chamber geometry, conventional devices are limited for the study of cell re-orientation to gradients that move or change directions. Here, we describe the development of a simple radially symmetric microfluidics device that can deliver laminar flow in 360°. A stimulant introduced either from the central inlet or by photo uncaging is focused into the laminar flow in a direction determined by the relative rate of regulated flow from multiple side channels. Schemes for flow regulation and an extended duplexed device were designed to generate and move gradients in desired orientations and speed, and then tested to steer cell migration of Dictyostelium and neutrophil-like HL60 cells. The device provided a high degree of freedom in the positioning and orientation of attractant gradients, and thus may serve as a versatile platform for studying cell migration, re-orientation, and steering.