Cell lysis

The cell lysis is the process of destruction or dissolution of the cell caused by the rupture in the plasma membrane (…)

Concept of cell lysis

The cell lysis is the process of destruction or dissolution of the cell caused by the rupture in the plasma membrane.

It’s a natural process that occurs in situations such as digestion or in the fight against infectious agents and can be reproduced in laboratory. It’s part of the daily routine in cellular and molecular biology, biochemistry, etc., being used in processes of organelles and proteins purification and on nucleic acids extraction (DNA or RNA).

The membrane disintegration, which causes the death of the cell, can be induced by chemical, physical and biological agents. The resulting product of this destruction is called “lysate”.

Detergents are the main chemical agents with lytic capacity. They are organic compounds that interfere with protein-protein, lipid-lipid and lipid-protein interactions in the membrane, disintegrating it. An example of detergent used in the laboratory is the Triton X-100. Another example of physical-chemical lysis is lysis by osmotic shock. This phenomenon happens when the cell is placed in a hypotonic medium (less concentrated than the intracellular medium) causing a lot of water to enter the cell increasing intracellular pressure and followed by the cell burst. The function of cell lysis of the complement system, an effector mechanism of humoral immunity, is based on the same principle.

The physical processes that can lead to the cell lysis are the sonication, which is the application of ultrasound whose vibrations generate mechanical stresses on the cell suspension, and the thermal shock with rapid freezing and thawing which generates the disruption due to the formation of crystals in the cytosol.

The cell lysis can also be caused by bacteria and viruses. It occurs, for example, at the end of the lytic cycle in the virus reproduction. The most common example is the case of bacteriophages (or phages) that infect bacteria and use them to multiply.

A particular type of cell lysis is haemolysis that is the destruction of red blood cells. This is a normal physiological process that allows the renewal of the red blood cells but that, in some cases, due to excessive haemolysis, can lead to the appearance of a regenerative anemia.

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  • Lippi, G. et al. (2012). Hemolysis: An Unresolved Dispute in Laboratory Medicine. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Reddy, C. A. et al. (2007). Methods for General and Molecular Microbiology. 3rd ed. Washington: American Society for Microbiology Press.
  • Walker, J. M. and Rapley, R. (2000). Molecular biology and biotechnology. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry. p461-466.
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