Microscale Isoelectric Fractionation Using Photopolymerized Membranes

In this work, we introduce microscale isoelectric fractionation (μIF) for isolation and enrichment of molecular species at any desired location in a microfluidic chip. Narrow pH-specific polyacrylamide membranes are photopatterned in situ for customizable device fabrication; multiple membranes of precise pH are easily incorporated throughout existing channel layouts. Samples are electrophoretically driven across the membranes such that charged species, for example, proteins and peptides, are rapidly discretized into fractions based on their isoelectric points (p<i>I</i>) without the use of carrier ampholytes. This format makes fractions easy to compartmentalize and access for integrated preparative or analytical operations on-chip. We present and discuss the key design considerations and trade-offs associated with proper system operation and optimal run conditions. Efficient and reproducible fractionation of model fluorescent p<i>I</i> markers and proteins is achieved using single membrane fractionators at pH 6.5 and 5.3 from both buffer and <i>Escherichia coli</i> cell lysate sample conditions. Effective fractionation is also shown using a serial 3-membrane fractionator tailored for isolating analytes-of-interest from high abundance components of serum. We further demonstrate that proteins focused in pH specific bins can be rapidly and efficiently transferred to another location in the same chip without unwanted dilution or dispersive effects. μIF provides a rapid and versatile option for integrated sample prep or multidimensional analysis, and addresses the glaring proteomic need to isolate trace analytes from high-abundance species in minute volumes of complex samples.