Analytical chemistry

Microfluidic Western blotting of low-molecular-mass proteins.

PMID 25268977


We describe a microfluidic Western blot assay (μWestern) using a Tris tricine discontinuous buffer system suitable for analyses of a wide molecular mass range (6.5-116 kDa). The Tris tricine μWestern is completed in an enclosed, straight glass microfluidic channel housing a photopatterned polyacrylamide gel that incorporates a photoactive benzophenone methacrylamide monomer. Upon brief ultraviolet (UV) light exposure, the hydrogel toggles from molecular sieving for size-based separation to a covalent immobilization scaffold for in situ antibody probing. Electrophoresis controls all assay stages, affording purely electronic operation with no pumps or valves needed for fluid control. Electrophoretic introduction of antibody into and along the molecular sieving gel requires that the probe must traverse through (i) a discontinuous gel interface central to the transient isotachophoresis used to achieve high-performance separations and (ii) the full axial length of the separation gel. In-channel antibody probing of small molecular mass species is especially challenging, since the gel must effectively sieve small proteins while permitting effective probing with large-molecular-mass antibodies. To create a well-controlled gel interface, we introduce a fabrication method that relies on a hydrostatic pressure mismatch between the buffer and polymer precursor solution to eliminate the interfacial pore-size control issues that arise when a polymerizing polymer abuts a nonpolymerizing polymer solution. Combined with a new swept antibody probe plug delivery scheme, the Tris tricine μWestern blot enables 40% higher separation resolution as compared to a Tris glycine system, destacking of proteins down to 6.5 kDa, and a 100-fold better signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) for small pore gels, expanding the range of applicable biological targets.