A microchip for quantitative analysis of CNS axon growth under localized biomolecular treatments.
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Growth capability of neurons is an essential factor in axon regeneration. To better understand how microenvironments influence axon growth, methods that allow spatial control of cellular microenvironments and easy quantification of axon growth are critically needed. Here, we present a microchip capable of physically guiding the growth directions of axons while providing physical and fluidic isolation from neuronal somata/dendrites that enables localized biomolecular treatments and linear axon growth. The microchip allows axons to grow in straight lines inside the axon compartments even after the isolation; therefore, significantly facilitating the axon length quantification process. We further developed an image processing algorithm that automatically quantifies axon growth. The effect of localized extracellular matrix components and brain-derived neurotropic factor treatments on axon growth was investigated. Results show that biomolecules may have substantially different effects on axon growth depending on where they act. For example, while chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan causes axon retraction when added to the axons, it promotes axon growth when applied to the somata. The newly developed microchip overcomes limitations of conventional axon growth research methods that lack localized control of biomolecular environments and are often performed at a significantly lower cell density for only a short period of time due to difficulty in monitoring of axonal growth. This microchip may serve as a powerful tool for investigating factors that promote axon growth and regeneration.