Differentiation of human trophoblast cells in vitro is inhibited by dimethylsulfoxide

Twanda L. Thirkill, Gordon C Douglas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) exerts a number of biological effects, the most frequently cited being induction of cell differentiation. The compound also increases invasiveness and metastatic potential. In contrast to the many reports of DMSO-induced cell differentiation, we report here that DMSO inhibits the morphological differentiation of human cytotrophoblast cells to syncytiotrophoblast, as revealed by immunofluorescence staining for desmosomal protein and nuclei. Cytotrophoblast cells treated with DMSO under differentiation-inducing conditions remained mononucleated with intense desmosomal staining. The effect was dose dependent, with a maximal effect seen at 1.5% DMSO. Concentrations of <0.5% had no effect and concentrations >2% were cytotoxic, in addition to these morphological changes, DMSO inhibited secretion of human chorionic gonadotropin in a dose-dependent manner. At a concentration of 1.5%, DMSO inhibited secretion by 70%. If cytotrophoblast cells were cultured in the presence of DMSO and then switched to DMSO-free medium, they proceeded to differentiate normally. While the precise mechanism of action remains unknown, judicious use of DMSO may be a useful tool for studying and manipulating the differentiation of human trophoblast cells in vitro. The findings also indicate that care should be used in interpreting results obtained using DMSO as a carrier in drug and inhibitor studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)460-468
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cellular Biochemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 15 1997


  • hCG
  • placenta
  • planar-polar compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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