Intercellular ice propagation: Experimental evidence for ice growth through membrane pores

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Propagation of intracellular ice between cells significantly increases the prevalence of intracellular ice in confluent monolayers and tissues. It has been proposed that gap junctions facilitate ice propagation between cells. This study develops an equation for capillary freezing-point depression to determine the effect of temperature on the equilibrium radius of an ice crystal sufficiently small to grow through gap junctions. Convection cryomicroscopy and video image analysis were used to examine the incidence and pattern of intracellular ice formation (IIF) in the confluent monolayers of cell lines that do (MDCK) and do not (V-79W) form gap junctions. The effect of gap junctions on intracellular ice propagation was strongly temperature-dependent. For cells with gap junctions, IIF occurred in a directed wave-like pattern in 100% of the cells below -3°C. At temperatures above -3°C, there was a marked drop in the incidence of IIF, with isolated individual cells initially freezing randomly throughout the sample. This random pattern of IIF was also observed in the V-79W monolayers and in MDCK monolayers treated to prevent gap junction formation. The significant change in the low temperature behavior of confluent MDCK monolayers at -3°C is likely the result of the inhibition of gap junction-facilitated ice propagation, and supports the theory that gap junctions facilitate ice nucleation between cells.




Acker, J. P., Elliott, J. A. W., & McGann, L. E. (2001). Intercellular ice propagation: Experimental evidence for ice growth through membrane pores. Biophysical Journal, 81(3), 1389–1397.

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