Direct monitoring of protease activity using an integrated microchip coated with multilayered fluorogenic nanofilms
Proteases play an essential role in the four sequential but overlapping phases of wound healing: hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling. In chronic wounds, excessive protease secretion damages the newly formed extracellular matrix, thereby delaying or preventing the normal healing process. Peptide-based fluorogenic sensors provide a visual platform to sense and analyze protease activity through changes in the fluorescence intensity. Here, we have developed an integrated microfluidic chip coated with multilayered fluorogenic nanofilms that can directly monitor protease activity. Fluorogenic protease sensors were chemically conjugated to polymer films coated on the surface of parallel microfluidic channels. Capillary flow layer-by-layer (CF-LbL) was used for film assembly and combined with subsequent sensor modification to establish a novel platform sensing technology. The benefits of our platform include facile fabrication and processing, controllable film nanostructure, small sample volume, and high sensitivity. We observed increased fluorescence of the LbL nanofilms when they were exposed to model recombinant proteases, confirming their responsiveness to protease activity. Increases in the nanofilms’ fluorescence intensity were also observed during incubation with liquid extracted from murine infected wounds, demonstrating the potential of these films to provide real-time, in situ information about protease activity levels.