Pneumatic stimulation of C. elegans mechanoreceptor neurons in a microfluidic trap
New tools for applying force to animals, tissues, and cells are critically needed in order to advance the field of mechanobiology, as few existing tools enable simultaneous imaging of tissue and cell deformation as well as cellular activity in live animals. Here, we introduce a novel microfluidic device that enables high-resolution optical imaging of cellular deformations and activity while applying precise mechanical stimuli to the surface of the worm's cuticle with a pneumatic pressure reservoir. To evaluate device performance, we compared analytical and numerical simulations conducted during the design process to empirical measurements made with fabricated devices. Leveraging the well-characterized touch receptor neurons (TRNs) with an optogenetic calcium indicator as a model mechanoreceptor neuron, we established that individual neurons can be stimulated and that the device can effectively deliver steps as well as more complex stimulus patterns. This microfluidic device is therefore a valuable platform for investigating the mechanobiology of living animals and their mechanosensitive neurons.