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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Effect of Polymer Hydration State on In-Gel Immunoassays

  • Author(s): Vlassakis, J
  • Herr, AE
  • et al.

© 2015 American Chemical Society. Applications as diverse as drug delivery and immunoassays require hydrogels to house high concentration macromolecular solutions. Yet, thermodynamic partitioning acts to lower the equilibrium concentration of macromolecules in the hydrogel, as compared to the surrounding liquid phase. For immunoassays that utilize a target antigen immobilized in the hydrogel, partitioning hinders introduction of detection antibody into the gel and, consequently, reduces the in-gel concentration of detection antibody, adversely impacting assay sensitivity. Recently, we developed a single-cell targeted proteomic assay with polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of single cell lysates followed by an in-gel immunoassay. In the present work, we overcome partitioning that both limits analytical sensitivity and increases consumption of costly detection antibody by performing the immunoassay step after dehydrating the antigen-containing polyacrylamide gel. Gels are rehydrated with a solution of detection antibody. We hypothesized that matching the volume of detection antibody solution with the hydrogel water volume fraction would ensure that, at equilibrium, the detection antibody mass resides in the gel and not in the liquid surrounding the gel. Using this approach, we observe (compared with antibody incubation of hydrated gels): (i) 4-11 fold higher concentration of antibody in the dehydrated gels and in the single-cell assay (ii) higher fluorescence immunoassay signal, with up to 5-fold increases in signal-to-noise-ratio and (iii) reduced detection antibody consumption. We also find that detection antibody signal may be less well-correlated with target protein levels (GFP) using this method, suggesting a trade-off between analytical sensitivity and variation in immunoprobe signal. Our volume-matching approach for introducing macromolecular solutions to hydrogels increases the local in-gel concentration of detection antibody without requiring modification of the hydrogel structure, and thus we anticipate broad applicability to hydrogel-based assays, diagnostics, and drug delivery.

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