An extremely simple method for fabricating 3D protein microarrays with an anti-fouling background and high protein capacity†
Protein microarrays have become vital tools for various applications in biomedicine and bio-analysis during the past decade. The intense requirements for a lower detection limit and industrialization in this area have resulted in a persistent pursuit to fabricate protein microarrays with a low background and high signal intensity via simple methods. Here, we report on an extremely simple strategy to create three-dimensional (3D) protein microarrays with an anti-fouling background and a high protein capacity by photo-induced surface sequential controlled/living graft polymerization developed in our lab. According to this strategy, “dormant” groups of isopropyl thioxanthone semipinacol (ITXSP) were first introduced to a polymeric substrate through ultraviolet (UV)-induced surface abstraction of hydrogen, followed by a coupling reaction. Under visible light irradiation, the ITXSP groups were photolyzed to initiate surface living graft polymerization of poly(ethylene glycol) methyl methacrylate (PEGMMA), thus introducing PEG brushes to the substrate to generate a full anti-fouling background. Due to the living nature of this graft polymerization, there were still ITXSP groups on the chain ends of the PEG brushes. Therefore, by in situ secondary living graft cross-linking copolymerization of glycidyl methacrylate (GMA) and polyethylene glycol diacrylate (PEGDA), we could finally plant height-controllable cylinder microarrays of a 3D PEG network containing reactive epoxy groups onto the PEG brushes. Through a commonly used reaction of amine and epoxy groups, the proteins could readily be covalently immobilized onto the microarrays. This delicate design aims to overcome two universal limitations in protein microarrays: a full anti-fouling background can effectively eliminate noise caused by non-specific absorption and a 3D reactive network provides a larger protein-loading capacity to improve signal intensity. The results of non-specific protein absorption tests demonstrated that the introduction of PEG brushes greatly improved the anti-fouling properties of the pristine low-density polyethylene (LDPE), for which the absorption to bovine serum albumin was reduced by 83.3%. Moreover, the 3D protein microarrays exhibited a higher protein capacity than the controls to which were attached the same protein on PGMA brushes and monolayer epoxy functional groups. The 3D protein microarrays were used to test the immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentration in human serum, suggesting that they could be used for biomedical diagnosis, which indicates that more potential bio-applications could be developed for these protein microarrays in the future.