A microfluidic chip for screening individual cancer cells via eavesdropping on autophagy-inducing crosstalk in the stroma niche

Sci Rep. 2017 May 17;7(1):2050. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-02172-7.


Autophagy is a cellular homeostatic mechanism where proteins and organelles are digested and recycled to provide an alternative source of building blocks and energy to cells. The role of autophagy in cancer microenvironment is still poorly understood. Here, we present a microfluidic system allowing monitoring of the crosstalk between single cells. We used this system to study how tumor cells induced autophagy in the stromal niche. Firstly, we could confirm that transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1) secreted from breast tumor cells is a paracrine mediator of tumor-stroma interaction leading to the activation of autophagy in the stroma component fibroblasts. Through proof of concept experiments using TGFβ1 as a model factor, we could demonstrate real time monitoring of autophagy induction in fibroblasts by single tumor cells. Retrieval of individual tumor cells from the microfluidic system and their subsequent genomic analysis was possible, allowing us to determine the nature of the factor mediating tumor-stroma interactions. Therefore, our microfluidic platform might be used as a promising tool for quantitative investigation of tumor-stroma interactions, especially for and high-throughput screening of paracrine factors that are secreted from heterogeneous tumor cell populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autophagy*
  • Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Lab-On-A-Chip Devices
  • Microfluidics* / instrumentation
  • Microfluidics* / methods
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Paracrine Communication
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods
  • Stromal Cells / metabolism*
  • Tumor Microenvironment*