Analysis of proteins released from living single cells is strongly required in the fields of biology and medicine to elucidate the mechanism of gene expression, cell-cell communication and cytopathology. However, as living single-cell analysis involves fL sample volumes with ultra-small amounts of analyte, comprehensive integration of entire chemical processing for single cells and proteins into spaces smaller than single cells (pL) would be indispensable to prevent dispersion-associated analyte loss. In this study, we proposed and developed a living single-cell protein analysis device based on micro/nanofluidics and demonstrated analysis of cytokines released from living single B cells by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Based on our integration method and technologies including top-down nanofabrication, surface modifications and pressure-driven flow control, we designed and prepared the device where pL-microfluidic- and fL-nanofluidic channels are hierarchically allocated for cellular and molecular processing, respectively, and succeeded in micro/nanofluidic control for manipulating single cells and molecules. 13-unit operations for pL-cellular processing including single-cell trapping and stimulation and fL-molecular processing including fL-volumetry, antigen-antibody reactions and detection were entirely integrated into a microchip. The results suggest analytical performances for countable interleukin (IL)-6 molecules at the limit of detection of 5.27 molecules and that stimulated single B cells secrete 3.41 IL-6 molecules per min. The device is a novel tool for single-cell targeted proteomics, and the methodology of device integration is applicable to other single-cell analyses such as single-cell shotgun proteomics. This study thus provides a general approach and technical breakthroughs that will facilitate further advances in micro/nanofluidics, single-cell life science research, and other fields.
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