The traditional in vitro nanotoxicity assessment approaches are conducted on a monolayer of cell culture. However, to study a cell response without interference from the neighbor cells, a single cell study is necessary; especially in cases of neuronal, cancerous, and stem cells, wherein an individual cell's fate is often not explained by the whole cell population. Nonetheless, a single cell does not mimic the actual in vivo environment and lacks important information regarding cell communication with its microenvironment. Both a single cell and a cell population provide important and complementary information about cells' behaviors. In this research, we explored nanotoxicity assessment on a single cell and a small cell population using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy and a microelectromechanical system (MEMS) device. We demonstrated a controlled capture of PC12 cells in different-sized microwells (to capture a different number of cells) using a combined method of surface functionalization and dielectrophoresis. The present approach provides a rapid nanotoxicity response as compared to other conventional approaches. This is the first study, to our knowledge, which demonstrates a comparative response of a single cell and small cell colonies on the same MEMS platform, when exposed to metaloxide nanoparticles. We demonstrated that the microenvironment of a cell is also accountable for cells' behaviors and their responses to nanomaterials. The results of this experimental study open up a new hypothesis to be tested for identifying the role of cell communication in spreading toxicity in a cell population.
Keywords: MEMS; cell-communication; impedance spectroscopy; nanotoxicity; single cell.