Chemotaxis in microfluidic devices—a study of flow effects†
The use of microfluidic devices has become increasingly popular in the study of chemotaxis due to the exceptional control of flow properties and concentration profiles on the length scale of individual cells. In these applications, it is often neglected that cells, attached to the inner surfaces of the microfluidic chamber, are three-dimensional objects that perturb and distort the flow field in their vicinity. Depending on the interplay of flow speed and geometry with the diffusive time scale of the chemoattractant in the flow, the concentration distribution across the cell membrane may differ strongly from the optimal gradient in a perfectly smooth channel. We analyze the underlying physics in a two-dimensional approximation and perform systematic numerical finite element simulations to characterize the three-dimensional case and to identify optimal flow conditions.