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Research Article

Optical injection of mammalian cells using a microfluidic platform


The use of a focused laser beam to create a sub-micron hole in the plasma membrane of a cell (photoporation), for the selective introduction of membrane impermeable substances (optical injection) including nucleic acids (optical transfection), is a powerful technique most commonly applied to treat single cells. However, particularly for femtosecond photoporation, these studies have been limited to low throughput, small-scale studies, because they require sequential dosing of individual cells. Herein, we describe a microfluidic photoporation system for increased throughput and automated optical injection of cells. Hydrodynamic focusing is employed to direct a flow of single-file cells through a focused femtosecond laser beam for photoporation. Upon traversing the beam, a number of transient pores potentially open across the extracellular membrane, which allows the uptake of the surrounding fluid media into the cytoplasm, also containing the chosen injection agent. The process is entirely automated and a rate of 1 cell/sec could readily be obtained, enabling several thousand cells to be injected per hour using this system. The efficiency of optically injecting propidium iodide into HEK293 mammalian cells was found to be 42 ± 8%, or 28 ± 4% taking into account the requirement of post-injection viability, as tested using Calcein AM. This work now opens the way for combining photoporation with microfluidic analyses, sorting, purification or on-chip cell culture studies.