Microfluidic approaches for epithelial cell layer culture and characterisation
In higher eukaryotes, epithelial cell layers line most body cavities and form selective barriers that regulate the exchange of solutes between compartments. In order to fulfil these functions, the cells assume a polarised architecture and maintain two distinct plasma membrane domains, the apical domain facing the lumen and the basolateral domain facing other cells and the extracellular matrix. Microfluidic biochips offer the unique opportunity to establish novel in vitro models of epithelia in which the in vivo microenvironment of epithelial cells is precisely reconstituted. In addition, analytical tools to monitor biologically relevant parameters can be directly integrated on-chip. In this review we summarise recently developed biochip designs for culturing epithelial cell layers. Since endothelial cell layers, which line blood vessels, have similar barrier functions and polar organisation as epithelial cell layers, we also discuss biochips for culturing endothelial cell layers. Furthermore, we review approaches to integrate tools to analyse and manipulate epithelia and endothelia in microfluidic biochips; including methods to perform electrical impedance spectroscopy; methods to detect substances undergoing trans-epithelial transport via fluorescence, spectrophotometry, and mass spectrometry; techniques to mechanically stimulate cells via stretching and fluid flow-induced shear stress; and methods to carry out high-resolution imaging of vesicular trafficking using light microscopy. Taken together, this versatile microfluidic toolbox enables novel experimental approaches to characterise epithelial monolayers.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Probe and chip approaches to cell analysis