Theranostics 2017; 7(19):4735-4752. doi:10.7150/thno.21662

Research Paper

The cytotoxic effects of dimethyl sulfoxide in mouse preimplantation embryos: a mechanistic study

Min-Hee Kang1, Joydeep Das1, Sangiliyandi Gurunathan1, Hwan-Woo Park2, Hyuk Song1, Chankyu Park1, Jin-Hoi Kim1✉

1. Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biotechnology, Humanized Pig Research Center (SRC), Konkuk University, Seoul, Korea.
2. Department of Cell Biology, College of Medicine, Konyang University, Daejeon, Korea


Rationale: Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is commonly used as a solvent for water-insoluble substances, a vehicle for drug therapy, and a cryoprotectant for cultured cells. DMSO induced embryonic defects and its mechanism of action remains unclear. The rationale is based on the assumption that DMSO supplementation should induce long-term negative effects on both pre- and post-implantation embryo development.

Methods: DMSO induced oxidative stress, ER stress, autophagy, mitophagy, signaling responsible genes and proteins were determined by RT-qPCR, Western blotting, immunofluorescence, and confocal microscopy. DMSO induced mitochondrial dysfunction was measured by transmission electron microcopy and JC-1 assay. Apoptosis was estimated using TUNEL and comet assay. Post-implantation embryo developmental capability was estimated by implantation site and fetus numbers.

Results: Exposure to DMSO induced an early oxidative stress response within 0.5 to 2 h in 1-cell zygotes by disrupting the balance of pro- and anti-oxidants. Notably, DMSO-treated 2-cell embryos showed increased expression of unfolded protein response genes such as Hspa5, Hsp90b1, Ddit3, Atf4, and Xbp1. As a result, the development of many embryos is arrested at the 2-cell, 4-cell, or morula stages in a dose-dependent manner. Further, DMSO-induced endoplasmic reticulum stress increased mitochondrial Ca2+ levels, induced mitochondrial depolarization/dysfunction, and induced apoptotic cell death via the JNK/ATF2-dependent pathway. Consequently, treatment with DMSO increased the expression of autophagy initiation-, phagophore elongation-, and autophagosome formation-related genes, as well as localization of PINK1/Parkin, which are the main mediators of mitophagy, in mitochondria. Interestingly, DMSO causes cytotoxic effects in preimplantation embryos by inducing extensive mitophagy and autophagy. Especially, DMSO treatment decreased the inner cell mass and trophectoderm cell numbers as well as mRNA expression of B3gnt5 and Wnt3a in developed blastocysts, which decreased the implantation and developmental rates of full-term offspring after being transferred into pseudopregnant mice.

Conclusion: These results provide a significant contribution to finding effective protective agents to combat DMSO mediated reproductive toxicity for application in human embryos in the near future.

Keywords: Dimethyl Sulfoxide, Preimplantation embryos, Endoplasmic reticulum stress, Autophagy, Reactive oxygen species

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
How to cite this article:
Kang MH, Das J, Gurunathan S, Park HW, Song H, Park C, Kim JH. The cytotoxic effects of dimethyl sulfoxide in mouse preimplantation embryos: a mechanistic study. Theranostics 2017; 7(19):4735-4752. doi:10.7150/thno.21662. Available from