Active control over the cell gradient is essential for understanding biological systems and the reconstitution of the functionality of many types of tissues, particularly for organ-on-a-chip. Here, we propose a three-dimensional (3D) microfluidic strategy for generating controllable cell gradients. In this approach, a homogeneous cell suspension is loaded into a 3D stair-shaped PDMS microchannel to generate a cell gradient within 10 min by sedimentation. We demonstrate that cell gradients of various profiles (exponential and piecewise linear) can be achieved by precisely controlling the height of each layer during the fabrication. With sequential seeding, we further demonstrate the generation of two overlapping cell gradients on the same glass substrate with pre-defined designs. The cell gradient-based QD cytotoxicity assay also demonstrated that cell behaviors and resistances were regulated by the changes in cell density. These results reveal that the proposed 3D microfluidic strategy provides a simple and versatile means for establishing controllable gradients in cell density, opening up a new avenue for reconstructing functional tissues.
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