Transparent nanopore cavity arrays enable highly parallelized optical studies of single membrane proteins on chip
Membrane proteins involved in transport processes are key targets for pharmaceutical research and industry. Despite continuous improvements and new developments in the field of electrical readouts for the analysis of transport kinetics, a well-suited methodology for high-throughput characterization of single transporters with nonionic substrates and slow turnover rates is still lacking. Here, we report on a novel architecture of silicon chips with embedded nanopore microcavities, based on a silicon-on-insulator technology for high-throughput optical readouts. Arrays containing more than 14 000 inverted-pyramidal cavities of 50 femtoliter volumes and 80 nm circular pore openings were constructed via high-resolution electron-beam lithography in combination with reactive ion etching and anisotropic wet etching. These cavities feature both, an optically transparent bottom and top cap. Atomic force microscopy analysis reveals an overall extremely smooth chip surface, particularly in the vicinity of the nanopores, which exhibits well-defined edges. Our unprecedented transparent chip design provides parallel and independent fluorescent readout of both cavities and buffer reservoir for unbiased single-transporter recordings. Spreading of large unilamellar vesicles with efficiencies up to 96% created nanopore-supported lipid bilayers, which are stable for more than 1 day. A high lipid mobility in the supported membrane was determined by fluorescent recovery after photobleaching. Flux kinetics of a-hemolysin were characterized at single-pore resolution with a rate constant of 0.96 ± 0.06 × 10-3 s-1. Here, we deliver an ideal chip platform for pharmaceutical research, which features high parallelism and throughput, synergistically combined with single-transporter resolution.