Recent insights on the role of cryoprotective agents in vitrification

Douglas R. Macfarlane, Maria Forsyth

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In recent efforts to produce cryoprotective solutions which cause either complete, or almost complete, vitrification of the cell or tissue material, increasingly complex cocktails of solutes have invariably been used. Why some of these solutes are so much more effective in suppressing ice formation than other, related solutes has never been clear. To begin to compare and contrast the role of the solute in aiding vitrification we have examined the nature of the hydrogen bonding interactions between the solute and water and between the solute molecules themselves, via proton nuclear magnetic resonance experiments. These experiments, carried out on neat samples of the solutions, show marked differences between solutes such as ethylene glycol, 1,2-propanediol, 1,3-propanediol, the family of butanediol isomers, dimethylsulfoxide, and so on, at fixed concentration. The solutions also show marked trends in the NMR chemical shift as a function of concentration in any given solution. Thus it appears that, from the point of view of the physical suppression of ice in aqueous solutions, cryoprotective agents which can act as moderately strong bases are optimum. The mechanism by which the solute promotes glass formation was also investigated in a separate series of NMR experiments using more dilute solutions of the solute in water. These experiments indicate that the role of the solute is twofold in that it must (i) effectively suppress the anomalous structuring which occurs in supercooled water and is responsible for the rapid nucleation of ice and (ii) provide a decrease in molecular mobility at low temperatures such that the nucleation probability is decreased and glass formation occurs at a relatively high temperature. It is argued that both such effects can be brought about by the strong hydrogen bonding interactions between water and solutes such as 2,3-butanediol.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-358
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1990

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