Visualization and quantification of intracellular molecules of mammalian cells are crucial steps in clinical diagnosis, drug development, and basic biological research. However, conventional methods rely mostly on labor-intensive, centrifugation-based manual operations for exchanging the cell carrier medium and have limited reproducibility and recovery efficiency. Here we present a microfluidic cell processor that can perform four-step exchange of carrier medium, simply by introducing a cell suspension and fluid reagents into the device. The reaction time period for each reaction step, including fixation, membrane permeabilization, and staining, was tunable in the range of 2 to 15 min by adjusting the volume of the reaction tube connecting the neighboring exchanger modules. We double-stained the cell nucleus and cytoskeleton (F-actin) using the presented device with an overall reaction period of ∼30 min, achieving a high recovery ratio and high staining efficiency. Additionally, intracellular cytokine (IL-2) was visualized for T cells to demonstrate the feasibility of the device as a pretreatment system for downstream flow-cytometric analysis. The presented approach would facilitate the development of laborless, automated microfluidic systems that integrate cell processing and analysis operations and would pave a new path to high-throughput biological experiments.
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