Microfluidic arenas for war games between neutrophils and microbes
Measurements of neutrophil activities such as cell migration and phagocytosis are generally performed using low-content bulk assays, which provide little detail activity at the single cell level, or flow cytometry methods, which have the single cell resolution but lack perspective on the kinetics of the process. Here, we present a microfluidic assay for measuring the essential functions that contribute to the antimicrobial activity of neutrophils: migration towards the target, and killing of microbes. The assay interrogates the interactions between isolated human neutrophils and populations of live, proliferating microbes. The outcome is measured in a binary mode that is reflective of in vivo infections, which are either cleared or endure the host response. The outcome of the interactions is also characterized at single cell resolution for both the neutrophils and the microbes. We applied the assay to test the response of neutrophils from intensive care patients to live Staphylococcus aureus, and observed alterations of antimicrobial neutrophil activity in patients, including those with sepsis. By directly measuring neutrophil activity against live targets at high spatial and temporal resolution, this assay provides unique insights into the life-or-death contest shaping the outcome of interactions between populations of neutrophils and microbes.