Low concentrations of the solvent dimethyl sulphoxide alter intrinsic excitability properties of cortical and hippocampal pyramidal cells

PLoS One. 2014 Mar 19;9(3):e92557. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092557. eCollection 2014.


Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) is a widely used solvent in biology. It has many applications perhaps the most common of which is in aiding the preparation of drug solutions from hydrophobic chemical entities. Recent studies have suggested that this molecule may be able to induce apoptosis in neural tissues urging caution regarding its introduction into humans, for example as part of stem cell transplants. Here we have used in vitro electrophysiological methods applied to murine brain slices to examine whether a few hours treatment with 0.05% DMSO (a concentration regarded by many as innocuous) alters intrinsic excitability properties of neurones. We investigated pyramidal neurones in two distinct brain regions, namely area CA1 of the hippocampus and layer 2 of perirhinal cortex. In the former there was no effect on resting potential but input resistance was decreased by DMSO pre-treatment. In line with this action potential count for any level of depolarizing current stimulus was reduced by ∼25% following DMSO treatment. Ih-mediated "sag" was also increased in CA1 pyramids and action potential waveform analysis demonstrated that DMSO treatment moved action potential threshold towards resting potential. In perirhinal cortex a decreased action potential output for various depolarizing current stimuli was also seen. In these cells action potential threshold was unaltered by DMSO but a significant increase in action potential width was apparent. These data indicate that pre-treatment with this widely employed solvent can elicit multifaceted neurophysiological changes in mammalian neurones at concentrations below those frequently encountered in the published literature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide / pharmacology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Hippocampus / cytology*
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pyramidal Cells / drug effects*
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*


  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide