Membrane hydration correlates to cellular biophysics during freezing in mammalian cells

Saravana K. Balasubramanian, Willem F. Wolkers, John C. Bischof

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47 Scopus citations


Cell survival during freezing applications in biomedicine is highly correlated to the temperature history and its dependent cellular biophysical events of dehydration and intracellular ice formation (IIF). Although cell membranes are known to play a significant role in cell injury, a clear correlation between the membrane state and the surrounding intracellular and extracellular water is still lacking. We previously showed that lipid hydration in LNCaP tumor cells is related to cellular dehydration. The goal of this study is to build upon this work by correlating both the phase state of the membrane and the surrounding water to cellular biophysical events in three different mammalian cell types: human prostate tumor cells (LNCaP), human dermal fibroblasts (HDF), and porcine smooth muscle cells (SMC) using Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Variable cooling rates were achieved by controlling the degree of supercooling prior to ice nucleation (- 3 °C and - 10 °C) while the sample was cooled at a set rate of 2 °C/min. Membranes displayed a highly cooperative phase transition under dehydrating conditions (i.e. NT = - 3 °C), which was not observed under IIF conditions (NT = - 10 °C). Spectral analysis showed a consistently greater amount of ice formation during dehydrating vs. IIF conditions in all cell types. This is hypothesized to be due to the extreme loss of membrane hydration in dehydrating cells that is manifested as excess water available for phase change. Interestingly, changes in residual membrane conformational disorder correlate strongly with cellular volumetric decreases as assessed by cryomicroscopy. A strong correlation was also found between the activation energies for freezing induced lyotropic membrane phase change determined using FTIR and the water transport measured by cryomicroscopy. Reduced lipid hydration under dehydration freezing conditions is suggested as one of the likely causes of what has been termed as "solution effects" injury in cryobiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)945-953
Number of pages9
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge grant support from National Institute of Health (NIH) R01-CA07528. The authors would also like to thank Dr. Alptekin Aksan for valuable discussions, Dr. Joel Slaton and the MD Anderson Cancer Center for the LNCaP Pro5 line cells.


  • Cryomicroscopy
  • Cryopreservation
  • Cryosurgery
  • FTIR
  • Membrane phase behavior


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