Direct cell injury associated with eutectic crystallization during freezing

Bumsoo Han, John C. Bischof

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Freezing induced direct cell injury has been explained by a two-factor hypothesis - intracellular ice formation (IIF) at rapid cooling rates, and solution effects at slow cooling rates. Even though IIF is generally believed to be a major injury mechanism at rapid cooling rates, injury by solution effects is not fully understood and several injury mechanisms have been suggested. Solution effects have generally been considered the result of the elevated electrolyte concentration within the intracellular and extracellular space during freezing. In addition to the injury by this elevated electrolyte concentration, freezing injury associated with eutectic crystallization was investigated. To examine the injury associated with eutectic crystallization, two different experiments were designed and performed. In the first experiment, two groups of AT-1 rat prostate tumor cell suspensions were frozen and thawed on a cryomicroscope in the same way except that eutectic crystallization was initiated in only one group. During the second experiment, AT-1 cells were suspended in several different media, which have different eutectic crystallization temperatures, and exposed to a single cooling-warming cycle with varying end temperature of the protocol on a directional solidification stage. After both experiments, post-thaw viability was evaluated and compared. The post-thaw viability drops significantly upon the occurrence of the eutectic crystallization regardless of suspending media, which suggests direct cell injury associated with eutectic crystallization. Based on these observations, two possible injury mechanisms are anticipated: (i) mechanical damage to the cell membrane due to eutectic crystallization, and (ii) intracellular eutectic formation (IEF). The proposed mechanisms provide a more comprehensive physical explanation of freezing induced cell injury and extend the understanding on solution effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-21
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Cryosurgery
  • Direct cell injury
  • Eutectic crystallization
  • Intracellular eutectic formation
  • Membrane damage
  • Solution effects


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