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Biomicrofluidics. 2016 Nov 16;10(6):064106. eCollection 2016 Nov.

A modular microfluidic bioreactor with improved throughput for evaluation of polarized renal epithelial cells.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of California , San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94143, USA.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Vanderbilt University , Nashville, Tennessee 37232, USA.
Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center , Nashville, Tennessee 37232, USA.
Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, University of California , San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94143, USA.


Most current microfluidic cell culture systems are integrated single use devices. This can limit throughput and experimental design options, particularly for epithelial cells, which require significant time in culture to obtain a fully differentiated phenotype. In addition, epithelial cells require a porous growth substrate in order to fully polarize their distinct apical and basolateral membranes. We have developed a modular microfluidic system using commercially available porous culture inserts to evaluate polarized epithelial cells under physiologically relevant fluid flow conditions. The cell-support for the bioreactor is a commercially available microporous membrane that is ready to use in a 6-well format, allowing for cells to be seeded in advance in replicates and evaluated for polarization and barrier function prior to experimentation. The reusable modular system can be easily assembled and disassembled using these mature cells, thus improving experimental throughput and minimizing fabrication requirements. The bioreactor consists of an apical microfluidic flow path and a static basolateral chamber that is easily accessible from the outside of the device. The basolateral chamber acts as a reservoir for transport across the cell layer. We evaluated the effect of initiation of apical shear flow on short-term intracellular signaling and mRNA expression using primary human renal epithelial cells (HRECs). Ten min and 5 h after initiation of apical fluid flow over a stable monolayer of HRECs, cells demonstrated increased phosphorylation of extracellular signal-related kinase and increased expression of interleukin 6 (IL-6) mRNA, respectively. This bioreactor design provides a modular platform with rapid experimental turn-around time to study various epithelial cell functions under physiologically meaningful flow conditions.

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