Osmotic loading of spherical gels: a biomimetic study of hindered transport in the cell protoplasm

J Biomech Eng. 2007 Aug;129(4):503-10. doi: 10.1115/1.2746371.


Osmotic loading of cells has been used to investigate their physicochemical properties as well as their biosynthetic activities. The classical Kedem-Katchalsky framework for analyzing cell response to osmotic loading, which models the cell as a fluid-filled membrane, does not generally account for the possibility of partial volume recovery in response to loading with a permeating osmolyte, as observed in some experiments. The cell may be more accurately represented as a hydrated gel surrounded by a semi-permeable membrane, with the gel and membrane potentially exhibiting different properties. To help assess whether this more elaborate model of the cell is justified, this study investigates the response of spherical gels to osmotic loading, both from experiments and theory. The spherical gel is described using the framework of mixture theory. In the experimental component of the study alginate is used as the model gel, and is osmotically loaded with dextran solutions of various concentrations and molecular weight, to verify the predictions from the theoretical analysis. Results show that the mixture framework can accurately predict the transient and equilibrium response of alginate gels to osmotic loading with dextran solutions. It is found that the partition coefficient of dextran in alginate regulates the equilibrium volume response and can explain partial volume recovery based on passive transport mechanisms. The validation of this theoretical framework facilitates future investigations of the role of the protoplasm in the response of cells to osmotic loading.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alginates / chemistry
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / physiology*
  • Cytoplasm / physiology*
  • Elasticity
  • Gels / chemistry
  • Glucuronic Acid / chemistry
  • Hexuronic Acids / chemistry
  • Models, Biological*
  • Osmosis
  • Viscosity


  • Alginates
  • Gels
  • Hexuronic Acids
  • Glucuronic Acid