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Probe-target hybridization depends on spatial uniformity of initial concentration condition across large-format chips


Diverse assays spanning from immunohistochemistry (IHC), to microarrays (protein, DNA), to high-throughput screens rely on probe-target hybridization to detect analytes. These large-format 'chips' array numerous hybridization sites across centimeter-scale areas. However, the reactions are prone to intra-assay spatial variation in hybridization efficiency. The mechanism of spatial bias in hybridization efficiency is poorly understood, particularly in IHC and in-gel immunoassays, where immobilized targets are heterogeneously distributed throughout a tissue or hydrogel network. In these systems, antibody probe hybridization to a target protein antigen depends on the interplay of dilution, thermodynamic partitioning, diffusion, and reaction. Here, we investigate parameters governing antibody probe transport and reaction (i.e., immunoprobing) in a large-format hydrogel immunoassay. Using transport and bimolecular binding theory, we identify a regime in which immunoprobing efficiency (η) is sensitive to the local concentration of applied antibody probe solution, despite the antibody probe being in excess compared to antigen. Sandwiching antibody probe solution against the hydrogel surface yields spatially nonuniform dilution. Using photopatterned fluorescent protein targets and a single-cell immunoassay, we identify regimes in which nonuniformly distributed antibody probe solution causes intra-assay variation in background and η. Understanding the physicochemical factors affecting probe-target hybridization reduces technical variation in large-format chips, improving measurement precision.

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