Neutrophils play a crucial role in combating life-threatening bacterial infections in neonates. Previous studies investigating neonatal cell function have been limited because of restricted volume sampling. Here, using novel microfluidic approaches, we provide the first description of neutrophil chemotaxis and transcriptomics from whole blood of human term and preterm neonates, as well as young adults. Ex vivo percent cell migration, neutrophil velocity, and directionality to N-formylmethionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine were measured from whole blood using time-lapse imaging of microfluidic chemotaxis. Genome-wide expression was also evaluated in CD66b+ cells using microfluidic capture devices. Neutrophils from preterm neonates migrated in fewer numbers compared to term neonates (preterm 12.3%, term 30.5%, P = 0.008) and at a reduced velocity compared to young adults (preterm 10.1 μm/min, adult 12.7 μm/min, P = 0.003). Despite fewer neutrophils migrating at slower velocities, neutrophil directionality from preterm neonates was comparable to adults and term neonates. 3607 genes were differentially expressed among the 3 groups (P < 0.001). Differences in gene expression between neutrophils from preterm and term neonates were consistent with reduced pathogen recognition and antimicrobial activity but not neutrophil migration, by preterm neonates. In summary, preterm neonates have significant disturbances in neutrophil chemotaxis compared to term neonates and adults, and these differences in phenotype appear at the transcriptional level to target inflammatory pathways in general, rather than in neutrophil migration and chemotaxis.
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