Passive microfluidic chamber for long-term imaging of axon guidance in response to soluble gradients
Understanding how axons are guided to target locations within the brain is of fundamental importance for neuroscience, and is a widely studied area of research. Biologists have an unmet need for reliable and easily accessible methods that generate stable, soluble molecular gradients for the investigation of axon guidance. Here we developed a microfluidic device with contiguous media-filled compartments that uses gravity-driven flow to generate a stable and highly reproducible gradient within a viewing compartment only accessible to axons. This device uses high-resistance microgrooves to both direct the growth of axons into an isolated region and to generate a stable gradient within the fluidically isolated axon viewing compartment for over 22 h. Establishing a stable gradient relies on a simple and quick pipetting procedure with no external pump or tubing. Since the axons extend into the axonal compartment through aligned microgrooves, the analysis of turning is simplified. Further, the multiple microgrooves in parallel alignment serve to increase sample sizes, improving statistical analyses. We used this method to examine growth cone turning in response to the secreted axon guidance cue netrin-1. We report the novel finding that growth cones of embryonic mouse cortical axons exhibited attractive turning in the lower concentrations of netrin-1, but were repulsed when exposed to higher concentrations. We also performed immunocytochemistry in growth cones exposed to a netrin-1 gradient within the axon viewing compartment and show that netrin receptors associated with both attraction and repulsion, DCC and UNC5H, localized to these growth cones. Together, we developed an accessible gradient chamber for higher throughput axon guidance studies and demonstrated its capabilities.