Protein secretion, a key intercellular event for transducing cellular signals, is thought to be strictly regulated. However, secretion dynamics at the single-cell level have not yet been clarified because intercellular heterogeneity results in an averaging response from the bulk cell population. To address this issue, we developed a novel assay platform for real-time imaging of protein secretion at single-cell resolution by a sandwich immunoassay monitored by total internal reflection microscopy in sub-nanolitre-sized microwell arrays. Real-time secretion imaging on the platform at 1-min time intervals allowed successful detection of the heterogeneous onset time of nonclassical IL-1β secretion from monocytes after external stimulation. The platform also helped in elucidating the chronological relationship between loss of membrane integrity and IL-1β secretion. The study results indicate that this unique monitoring platform will serve as a new and powerful tool for analysing protein secretion dynamics with simultaneous monitoring of intracellular events by live-cell imaging.
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