A microfluidic Transwell to study chemotaxis

Chentian Zhang, Maria P. Barrios, Rhoda M. Alani, Mario Cabodi, Joyce Y. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Chemotaxis is typically studied in vitro using commercially available products such as the Transwell® in which cells migrate through a porous membrane in response to one or more clearly defined chemotactic stimuli. Despite its widespread use, the Transwell assay suffers from being largely an endpoint assay, with built-in errors due to inconsistent pore size and human sampling. In this study, we report a microfluidic chemotactic chip that provides real-time monitoring, consistent paths for cell migration, and easy on-chip staining for quantifying migration. To compare its performance with that of a traditional Transwell chamber, we investigate the chemotactic response of MDA-MB-231 1833 metastatic breast cancer cells to epidermal growth factor (EGF). The results show that while both platforms were able to detect a chemotactic response, we observed a dose-dependent response of breast cancer cells towards EGF with low non-specific migration using the microfluidic platform, whereas we observed a dose-independent response of breast cancer cells towards EGF with high levels of non-specific migration using the commercially available Transwell.The microfluidic platform also allowed EGF-dependent chemotactic responses to be observed 24 h, a substantially longer window than seen with the Transwell. Thus the performance of our microfluidic platform revealed phenomena that were not detected in the Transwell under the conditions tested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-165
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast cancer
  • Cell migration
  • Chemotaxis
  • EGF
  • Microfluidics
  • Transwell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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