Efficient cell pairing in droplets using dual-color sorting
The use of microfluidic droplets has become a powerful tool for the screening and manipulation of cells. However, currently this is restricted to assays involving a single cell type. Studies on the interaction of different cells (e.g. in immunology) as well as the screening of antibody-secreting cells in assays requiring an additional reporter cell, have not yet been successfully demonstrated. Based on Poisson statistics, the probability for the generation of droplets hosting exactly one cell of two different types is just 13.5%. To overcome this limitation, we have developed an approach in which different cell types are stained with different fluorescent dyes. Subsequent to encapsulation into droplets, the resulting emulsion is injected into a very compact sorting device allowing for analysis at high magnification and fixation of the cells close to the focal plane. By applying dual-color sorting, this furthermore enables the specific collection and analysis of droplets with exactly two different cells. Our approach shows an efficiency of up to 86.7% (more than 97% when also considering droplets hosting one or more cells of each type), and, hence, should pave the way for a variety of cell-based assays in droplets.