Functional profiling of circulating tumor cells with an integrated vortex capture and single-cell protease activity assay.


Tumor cells are hypothesized to use proteolytic enzymes to facilitate invasion. Whether circulating tumor cells (CTCs) secrete these enzymes to aid metastasis is unknown. A quantitative and high-throughput approach to assay CTC secretion is needed to address this question. We developed an integrated microfluidic system that concentrates rare cancer cells >100,000-fold from 1 mL of whole blood into ∼50,000 2-nL drops composed of assay reagents within 15 min. The system isolates CTCs by size, exchanges fluid around CTCs to remove contaminants, introduces a matrix metalloprotease (MMP) substrate, and encapsulates CTCs into microdroplets. We found CTCs from prostate cancer patients possessed above baseline levels of MMP activity (1.7- to 200-fold). Activity of CTCs was generally higher than leukocytes from the same patient (average CTC/leukocyte MMP activity ratio, 2.6 ± 1.5). Higher MMP activity of CTCs suggests active proteolytic processes that may facilitate invasion or immune evasion and be relevant phenotypic biomarkers enabling companion diagnostics for anti-MMP therapies.

  • Dhar M
  • Di Carlo D
  • Dubinett SM
  • Lam JN
  • Rettig MB
  • Walser T
PubMed ID
Appears In
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2018, 115 (40)