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J Biomed Sci. 2006 May;13(3):433-45. Epub 2005 Dec 23.

Loss of viability during freeze-thaw of intact and adherent human embryonic stem cells with conventional slow-cooling protocols is predominantly due to apoptosis rather than cellular necrosis.

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  • 1Stem Cell Laboratory, Faculty of Dentistry, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Abstract

A major challenge in the widespread application of human embryonic stem (hES) cells in clinical therapy and basic scientific research is the development of efficient cryopreservation protocols. Conventional slow-cooling protocols utilizing standard cryoprotectant concentrations i.e. 10% (v/v) DMSO, yield extremely low survival rates of <5% as reported by previous studies. This study characterized cell death within frozen-thawed hES colonies that were cryopreserved under standard conditions. Surprisingly, our results showed that immediately after post-thaw washing, the overwhelming majority of hES cells were viable (approximately 98%), as assessed by the trypan blue exclusion test. However, when the freshly-thawed hES colonies were incubated within a 37 degrees C incubator, there was observed to be a gradual reduction in cell viability over time. The kinetics of cell death was drastically slowed-down by keeping the freshly-thawed hES colonies at 4 degrees C, with >90% of cells remaining viable after 90 min of incubation at 4 degrees C. This effect was reversible upon re-exposing the cells to physiological temperature. The vast majority of low temperature-exposed hES colonies gradually underwent cell death upon incubation for a further 90 min at 37 degrees C. Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT)-mediated dUTP nick-end-labeling (TUNEL) assay confirmed apoptosis-induced nuclear DNA fragmentation in frozen-thawed hES cells after incubation at 37 degrees C for 90 min. Expression of active caspase-3 enzyme, which is another prominent marker of apoptosis, was confirmed by immunocytochemical staining, while transmission electron microscopy showed typical ultrastructural features of apoptosis such as chromatin condensation and margination to the nuclear membrane. Hence, our results demonstrated that apoptosis instead of cellular necrosis, is the major mechanism of the loss of viability of cryopreserved hES cells during freeze-thawing with conventional slow-cooling protocols.

PMID:
16374523
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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