Proteolytic degradation of the extracellular matrix (ECM) is critical in cancer invasion, and recent work suggests that heterogeneous cancer populations cooperate in this process. Despite the importance of cell heterogeneity, conventional proteolytic assays measure average activity, requiring thousands of cells and providing limited information about heterogeneity and dynamics. Here, we developed a microfluidic platform that provides high-efficiency cell loading and simple valveless isolation, so the proteolytic activity of a small sample (10-100 cells) can be easily characterized. Combined with a single cell derived (clonal) sphere formation platform, we have successfully demonstrated the importance of microenvironmental cues for proteolytic activity and also investigated the difference between clones. Furthermore, the platform allows monitoring single cells at multiple time points, unveiling different cancer cell line dynamics in proteolytic activity. The presented tool facilitates single cell proteolytic analysis using small samples, and our findings illuminate the heterogeneous and dynamic nature of proteolytic activity.
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