Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO)

DMSO Wikipedia
Structure of Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO)


DMSO can be used to increase membrane fluidity, and, thus, acts antagonistically with benzyl alcohol. Since membrane fluidity is central for temperature sensing, it has been used to modulate cold and heat sensing of animal and plant cells. It also has been extensively used for cryopreservation of cells. It can block inflammations and is skin permeable. Therefore it is widely used as solvent in cosmetics and medicine. It seems to be fairly biocompatible.


Mode of action

The mode of action is not well understood and seems to depend on the concentration. The rigidifying effect has been shown in experiments were the polarisation of a fluorescent membrane marker has been measured (Örvar et al. 2000). Also several in-vitro studies show membrane stabilisation by DMSO (Ricci et al. 2016).


Chemical properties

  • CAS number 67-68-5
  • MW 78
  • synonyms: methylsulfoxid, methylsulfinylmethan, sulfinyldimethan, dimethylis sulfoxidum
  • a liquid, slightly denser than water. Below 18°C solid, soluble in water, ethanol, acetone
  • not hazardous, it is widely used in medicine and cosmetics and has analgetic properties


Active concentrations

  • alfalfa protoplasts: 3% were shown to cause membrane rigidification (Örvar et al. 2000)
  • liposomes: up to 10% were used to cause membrane rigidification (Ricci et al. 2016)
  • grapevine cells: 1% were able to replace cold with respect to microtubule disassembly (Wang and Nick 2017)
  • grapevine cells: 2% were able to modulate defence responses (Guan and Nick, under review)


Work from our group using benzyl alcohol

134. Wang L, Nick P (2017) Cold sensing in grapevine - which signals are upstream of the microtubular “thermometer". Plant Cell Environment 40, 2844-2857 - pdf




Örvar BL, Sangwan V, Omann F, Dhindsa RS. 2000. Early steps in cold sensing by plant cells: the role of actin cytoskeleton and membrane fluidity. The Plant Journal 23, 785–794. pdf. (This paper shows the rigidification of the membrane in plant cells)

Ricci M, Oliva R, Del Vecchio P, Paolantoni M, Morresi A, Sassi P (2016) DMSO-induced perturbation of thermotropic properties of cholesterol-containing DPPC liposomes. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1858, 3024–3031. pdf. (This paper shows stabilisation of liposomal membranes in the context of cryopreservation and also gives an overview over the literature).