Dimethyl sulfoxide: a central player since the dawn of cryobiology, is efficacy balanced by toxicity?

Regen Med. 2020 Mar;15(3):1463-1491. doi: 10.2217/rme-2019-0145. Epub 2020 Apr 28.


Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is the cryoprotectant of choice for most animal cell systems since the early history of cryopreservation. It has been used for decades in many thousands of cell transplants. These treatments would not have taken place without suitable sources of DMSO that enabled stable and safe storage of bone marrow and blood cells until needed for transfusion. Nevertheless, its effects on cell biology and apparent toxicity in patients have been an ongoing topic of debate, driving the search for less cytotoxic cryoprotectants. This review seeks to place the toxicity of DMSO in context of its effectiveness. It will also consider means of reducing its toxic effects, the alternatives to its use and their readiness for active use in clinical settings.

Keywords: DMSO toxicity; cell therapy; cell therapy safety; cryobiology; cryopreservation; cryoprotectant toxicity; cryoprotectants; dimethyl sulfoxide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival
  • Cryobiology
  • Cryopreservation / methods*
  • Cryoprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Tissue Engineering


  • Cryoprotective Agents
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide