Ultrathin Silicon Membranes for in Situ Optical Analysis of Nanoparticle Translocation across a Human Blood-Brain Barrier Model

ACS Nano. 2020 Jan 28;14(1):1111-1122. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.9b08870. Epub 2020 Jan 14.


Here we present a blood-brain barrier (BBB) model that enables high-resolution imaging of nanoparticle (NP) interactions with endothelial cells and the capture of rare NP translocation events. The enabling technology is an ultrathin silicon nitride (SiN) membrane (0.5 μm pore size, 20% porosity, 400 nm thickness) integrated into a dual-chamber platform that facilitates imaging at low working distances (∼50 μm). The platform, the μSiM-BBB (microfluidic silicon membrane-BBB), features human brain endothelial cells and primary astrocytes grown on opposite sides of the membrane. The human brain endothelial cells form tight junctions on the ultrathin membranes and exhibit a significantly higher resistance to FITC-dextran diffusion than commercial membranes. The enhanced optical properties of the SiN membrane allow high-resolution live-cell imaging of three types of NPs, namely, 40 nm PS-COOH, 100 nm PS-COOH, and apolipoprotein E-conjugated 100 nm SiO2, interacting with the BBB. Despite the excellent barrier properties of the endothelial layer, we are able to document rare NP translocation events of NPs localized to lysosomal compartments of astrocytes on the "brain side" of the device. Although the translocation is always low, our data suggest that size and targeting ligand are important parameters for NP translocation across the BBB. As a platform that enables the detection of rare transmission across tight BBB layers, the μSiM-BBB is an important tool for the design of nanoparticle-based delivery of drugs to the central nervous system.

Keywords: blood−brain barrier; coculture; live-cell imaging; nanoparticle; ultrathin silicon nitride membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / chemistry
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Nanoparticles / metabolism*
  • Optical Imaging*
  • Particle Size
  • Silicon / chemistry
  • Silicon / metabolism*
  • Surface Properties


  • Silicon