Surface isoelectric focusing (sIEF) with carrier ampholyte pH gradient

Document Type


Publication Date



Department of Chemical Engineering


Weinheim Isoelectric focusing (IEF) is a powerful tool for amphoteric protein separations because of high sensitivity, bio-compatibility, and reduced complexity compared to chromatography or mechanical separation techniques. IEF miniaturization is attractive because it enables rapid analysis, easier adaptation to point of care applications, and smaller sample demands. However, existing small-scale IEF tools have not yet been able to analyze single protein spots from array libraries, which are ubiquitous in many pharmaceutical discovery and screening protocols. Thus, we introduce an in situ, novel, miniaturized protein analysis approach that we have termed surface isoelectric focusing (sIEF). Low volume printed sIEF gels can be run at length scales of ∼300 μm, utilize ∼0.9 ng of protein with voltages below 10 V. Further, the sIEF device platform is so simple that it can be integrated with protein library arrays to reduce cost; devices demonstrate reusability above 50 uses. An acrylamide monomer solution containing broad-range carrier ampholytes was microprinted with a Nano eNablerTM between micropatterned gold electrodes spaced 300 μm apart on a glass slide. The acrylamide gel was polymerized in situ followed by protein loading via printed diffusional exchange. A pH gradient formed via carrier ampholyte stacking when electrodes were energized; the gradient was verified using ratiometric pH-sensitive FITC/TRITC dyes. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) and R-phycoerythrin (R-PE) were utilized both as pI markers and to test sIEF performance as a function of electric field strength and ampholyte concentration. Factors hampering sIEF included cathodic drift and pH gradient compression, but were reduced by co-printing non-ionic Synperonic® F-108 surfactant to reduce protein–gel interactions. sIEF gels achieved protein separations in < 10 min yielding bands < 50 μm wide with peak capacities of ∼8 and minimum pI differences from 0.12 to 0.14. This new sIEF technique demonstrated comparable focusing at ∼100 times smaller dimensions than any previous IEF. Further, sample volumes required were reduced four orders of magnitude from 20 μL for slab gel IEF to 0.002 μL for sIEF. In summary, sIEF advantages include smaller volumes, reduced power consumption, and microchip surface accessibility to focused bands along with equivalent separation resolutions to prior IEF tools. These attributes position this new technology for rapid, in situ protein library analysis in clinical and pharmaceutical settings.

Publication Title