A microfluidic platform for high-sensitivity, real-time drug screening on C. elegans and parasitic nematodes



John Carr, Santosh Pandey


This paper describes a new microfluidic platform for screening drugs and their dose response on the locomotion behavior of free living nematodes and parasitic nematodes. The system offers a higher sensitivity drug screening chip which employs a combination of existing and newly developed methods. Real-time observation of the entire drug application process (i.e. the innate pre-exposure locomotion, the transient response during drug exposure and the time-resolved, post-exposure behavior) at a single worm resolution is made possible. The chip enables the monitoring of four nematode parameters (number of worms responsive, number of worms leaving the drug well, average worm velocity and time until unresponsiveness). Each parameter generates an inherently different dose response; allowing for a higher resolution when screening for resistance. We expect this worm chip could be used as a robust cross species, cross drug platform. Existing nematode motility and migration assays do not offer this level of sophistication. The device comprises two principal components: behavioral microchannels to study nematode motility and a drug well for administering the dose and observing drug effects as a function of exposure time. The drug screening experiment can be described by three main steps: (i) 'pre-exposure study' - worms are inserted into the behavioral channels and their locomotion is characterized, (ii) 'dose exposure' - worms are guided from the behavioral microchannels into the drug well and held for a predefined time, during which time their transient response to the dose is characterized and (iii) 'post-exposure study' - worms are guided back into the behavioral microchannels where their locomotion (i.e. their time-resolved response to the dose) is characterized and compared to pre-exposure motility. The direction of nematodes' movement is reliably controlled by the application of an electric field within a defined range. Control experiments (e.g. in the absence of any drug) confirm that the applied electric fields do not affect the worms' motility or viability. We demonstrate the workability of the microfluidic platform on free living Caenorhabditis elegans (wild-type N2 and levamisole resistant ZZ15 lev-8) and parasitic Oesophagotomum dentatum (levamisole-sensitive, SENS and levamisole-resistant, LEVR) using levamisole (a well-studied anthelmintic) as the test drug. The proposed scheme of drug screening on a microfluidic device is expected to significantly improve the resolution, sensitivity and data throughput of in vivo testing, while offering new details on the transient and time-resolved exposure effects of new and existing anthelmintics.


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