Cellular microarrays for assessing single-cell phenotypic changes in vascular cell populations

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Microengineering technologies provide bespoke tools for single-cell studies, including microarray approaches. There are many challenges when culturing adherent single cells in confined geometries for extended periods, including the ability of migratory cells to overcome confining cell-repellent surfaces with time. Following studies suggesting clonal expansion of only a few vascular smooth muscle cells (vSMCs) contributes to plaque formation, the investigation of vSMCs at the single-cell level is central to furthering our understanding of atherosclerosis. Herein, we present a medium throughput cellular microarray, for the tracking of single, freshly-isolated vSMCs as they undergo phenotypic modulation in vitro. Our solution facilitates long-term cell confinement (>3 weeks) utilising novel application of surface functionalisation methods to define individual culture microwells. We demonstrate successful tracking of hundreds of native vSMCs isolated from rat aortic and carotid artery tissue, monitoring their proliferative capacity and uptake of oxidised low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL) by live-cell microscopy. After 7 days in vitro, the majority of viable SMCs remained as single non-proliferating cells (51% aorta, 78% carotid). However, a sub-population of vSMCs demonstrated high proliferative capacity (≥10 progeny; 18% aorta, 5% carotid), in line with reports that a limited number of medial SMCs selectively expand to populate atherosclerotic lesions. Furthermore, we show that, when exposed to oxLDL, proliferative cells uptake higher levels of lipoproteins, whilst also expressing greater levels of galectin-3. Our microwell array approach enables long-term characterisation of multiple phenotypic characteristics and the identification of new cellular sub-populations in migratory, proliferative adherent cell types.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11
Number of pages12
JournalBiomedical Microdevices
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2023


  • single cell
  • microwell array
  • smooth muscle
  • phenotypic modulation
  • oxLDL


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