The temperature at which ice formation occurs in supercooled cytoplasm is an important element in predicting the likelihood of intracellular freezing of cells cooled by various procedures to subzero temperatures. We have confirmed and extended prior indications that permeating cryoprotective additives decrease the ice nucleation temperature of cells, and have determined some possible mechanisms for the decrease. Our experiments were carried out on eight-cell mouse embryos equilibrated with various concentrations (0-2.0 M) of dimethyl sulfoxide or glycerol and then cooled rapidly. Two methods were used to assess the nucleation temperature. The first, indirect, method was to determine the in vitro survival of the rapidly cooled embryos as a function of temperature. The temperatures over which an abrupt drop in survival occurs are generally diagnostic of the temperature range for intracellular freezing. The second, direct, method was to observe the microscopic appearance during rapid cooling and note the temperature at which nucleation occurred. Both methods showed that the nucleation temperature decreased from - 10 to - 15 degrees C in saline alone to between - 38 degrees and - 44 degrees C in 1.0-2.0 M glycerol and dimethyl sulfoxide. The latter two temperatures are close to the homogeneous nucleation temperatures of the solutions in the embryo cytoplasm, and suggest that embryos equilibrated in these solutions do not contain heterogeneous nucleating agents and are not accessible to any extracellular nucleating agents, such as extracellular ice. The much higher freezing temperatures of cells in saline or in low concentrations of additive indicate that they are being nucleated by heterogeneous agents or, more likely, by extracellular ice
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