An automated microfluidic system for screening Caenorhabditis elegans behaviors using electrotaxis
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Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is a widely used animal model to study mechanisms of biological processes and human diseases. To facilitate manipulations of C. elegans in the laboratory, researchers have developed various tools that permit careful monitoring of behavior and changes in cellular processes. Earlier, we had reported a novel microfluidic assay device to study the neuronal basis of movement and to investigate the effects of cellular and environmental factors that can induce degeneration in certain neurons leading to movement disorder. The system involved the use of an electric field to perform electrotaxis assays, which allows detailed examination of movement responses of animals. One of the potential uses of this system is to perform genetic and chemical screenings for neuroprotective factors; however, it could not be done due to manual operations and low throughput. In this paper, we present an integrated microfluidic system that automates screening of C. elegans behavioral response using electrotaxis. The core component of system is a multilayer poly dimethyl siloxane (PDMS) device, which enables C. elegans loading, capture, flush, release, electrotaxis, and clean sequentially with the help of other components. The system is capable of screening C. elegans, at a throughput of more than 20 worms per hour, automatically and continually without human intervention. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the system, C. elegans neuronal mutants were screened, and the phenotype data were extracted and analyzed. We envision that the automatic screening potential of the system will accelerate the study of neuroscience, drug discovery, and genetic screens in C. elegans.
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