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Biomicrofluidics. 2012 Aug 13;6(3):34112. doi: 10.1063/1.4746249. Print 2012 Sep.

Quantification of the specific membrane capacitance of single cells using a microfluidic device and impedance spectroscopy measurement.

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Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8, Canada.


The specific membrane capacitance (SMC) is an electrical parameter that correlates with both the electrical activity and morphology of the plasma membrane, which are physiological markers for cellular phenotype and health. We have developed a microfluidic device that enables impedance spectroscopy measurements of the SMC of single biological cells. Impedance spectra induced by single cells aspirated into the device are captured over a moderate frequency range (5 kHz-1 MHz). Maximum impedance sensitivity is achieved using a tapered microfluidic channel, which effectively routes electric fields across the cell membranes. The SMC is extracted by curve-fitting impedance spectra to an equivalent circuit model. From our measurement, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells are found to exhibit larger SMC values in hypertonic solutions as compared with those in isotonic solutions. In addition, AML cell phenotypes (AML2 and NB4) exhibiting varying metastatic potential yield distinct SMC values (AML2: 16.9 ± 1.9 mF/m(2) (n = 23); NB4: 22.5 ± 4.7 mF/m(2) (n = 23)). Three-dimensional finite element simulations of the microfluidic device confirm the feasibility of this approach.

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