Response of the cell membrane-cytoskeleton complex to osmotic and freeze/thaw stresses

Vishard Ragoonanan, Allison Hubel, Alptekin Aksan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


In order to develop successful cryopreservation protocols a better understanding of the freeze- and dehydration-induced changes occurring in the cell membrane and its underlying support, the actin cytoskeleton, is required. In this study, we compared the biophysical response of model mammalian cells (human foreskin fibroblasts) to hyperosmotic stress and freeze/thaw. Transmitted light, infrared spectroscopy, fluorescence- and cryo-microscopy were used to investigate the changes in the cell membrane and the actin cytoskeleton. We observed that a purely hyperosmotic challenge at room temperature resulted in bleb formation. A decrease in temperature abrogated the blebbing behavior, but was accompanied by a decrease in viability. These results suggested that cell survival depended on the availability of the membrane material to accommodate the volumetric expansion back to the original cell volume at isotonic conditions. Our data also showed that freeze/thaw stresses altered the cell membrane morphology resulting in a loss of membrane material. There was also a significantly lower incidence of blebbing after freeze/thaw as compared to isothermal osmotic stress experiments at room temperature. Significant depolymerization of the actin cytoskeleton was seen in cells whose membranes had been compromised by freeze/thaw stresses. Actin depolymerization using cytochalasin D affected the stability of the membrane against mechanical stress at isothermal conditions. This study shows that both the membrane and cytoskeleton, as a system, are involved in the osmotic and freeze/thaw-induced responses of the mammalian cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-344
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010


  • Actin cytoskeleton
  • Cell membrane
  • Cryopreservation
  • Cytochalasin
  • Freeze/thaw
  • Hyperosmotic stress


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