Cell biochemistry and biophysics

Diffusion delays and unstirred layer effects at monolayer cultures of Chinese hamster ovary cells: radioligand binding, confocal microscopy, and mathematical simulations.

PMID 16679563


Cells grown in monolayer culture offer a convenient system for binding and other experiments under conditions that preserve the complexity of the living state. Kinetics experiments, however, may be distorted by the time course of drug penetration into even so simple a "tissue" as the monolayer. The impediments include unstirred layers both above and between the cells, the congregation of receptors within the confined space between cells, and nonspecific binding to membrane components. The contributions of these factors were investigated in cultures of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells either nontransfected or stably transfected with mu opioid receptors. The dissociation of [3H]naloxone was four times faster under displacement than under infinite dilution conditions, clearly demonstrating the "retention effect" of receptors confined in space. Even the penetration of this ligand between nontransfected cells showed salient delays with respect to diffusion into a slab, indicating that nonspecific, low-affinity binding to membrane components was arresting its progress. The optical sectioning capabilities of confocal microscopy demonstrated that the kinetics of two fluorescent antagonists depended on the vertical plane, providing direct evidence for slowed diffusion down a single cell depth. Modeling shows that kinetic errors increase with receptor density, forward rate constant, and the thickness of the unstirred layer.