Nanoliter Cell Culture Array with Tunable Chemical Gradients

Anal Chem. 2018 Jun 19;90(12):7480-7488. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.8b01017. Epub 2018 May 30.


A multitude of cell screening assays for diagnostic and research applications rely on quantitative measurements of a sample in the presence of different reagent concentrations. Standard methods rely on microtiter plates of varying well density, which provide simple and standardized sample addressability. However, testing hundreds of chemical dilutions requires complex automation, and typical well volumes of microtiter plates are incompatible with the analysis of a small number of cells. Here, we present a microfluidic device for creating a high-resolution chemical gradient spanning 200 nanoliter wells. Using air-based shearing, we show that the individual wells can be compartmentalized without altering the concentration gradient, resulting in a large set of isolated nanoliter cell culture wells. We provide an analytical and numerical model for predicting the concentration within each culture chamber and validate it against experimental results. We apply our system for the investigation of yeast cell metabolic gene regulation in the presence of different ratios of galactose/glucose concentrations and successfully resolve the nutrient threshold at which the cells activate the galactose pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Culture Techniques* / instrumentation
  • Galactose / chemistry*
  • Galactose / metabolism
  • Glucose / chemistry*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques* / instrumentation
  • Nanotechnology*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / cytology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism


  • Glucose
  • Galactose