Nitric oxide (NO) is an ubiquitous signaling molecule of intense interest in many physiological processes. Nitric oxide is a highly reactive free radical gas that is difficult to deliver with precise control over the level and timing that cells actually experience. We describe and characterize a device that allows tunable fluxes and patterns of NO to be generated across the surface upon which cells are cultured. The system is based on a quartz microscope slide that allows for controlled light levels to be applied to a previously described photosensitive NO-releasing polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). Cells are cultured in separate wells that are either NO-releasing or a chemically similar PDMS that does not release NO. Both wells are then top coated with DowCorning RTV-3140 PDMS and a polydopamine/gelatin layer to allow cells to grow in the culture wells. When the waveguide is illuminated, the surface of the quartz slide propagates light such that the photosensitive polymer is evenly irradiated and generates NO across the surface of the cell culture well and no light penetrates into the volume of the wells where cells are growing. Mouse smooth muscle cells (MOVAS) were grown in the system in a proof of principle experiment, whereby 60% of the cells were present in the NO-releasing well compared to control wells after 17 h. The compelling advantage of illuminating the NO-releasing polymers with the waveguide system is that light can be used to tunably control NO release while avoiding exposing cells to optical radiation. This device provides means to quantitatively control the surface flux, timing and duration of NO cells experience and allows for systematic study of cellular response to NO generated at the cell/surface interface in a wide variety of studies.
Keywords: In vitro cell culture; Photolytic NO release; Timing and duration; Tunable nitric oxide release; Waveguide.