The surfactant Pluronic F-68 (PF-68) is widely used in large-scale mammalian cell culture to protect cells from shear stress that arises from agitation and gas sparging. Several studies suggested that PF-68 is incorporated into the cell plasma membrane and could enter the cells, but without providing any direct evidence. The current study has examined this question for two cell types, one of pharmaceutical interest (CHO cells) and the other of biomedical interest (chondrocytes or cartilage cells). A fluorescent derivative of PF-68 was synthesized to detect and localize internalized Pluronic with culture time. PF-68 uptake by the cells was quantified and characterized. We clearly demonstrate that PF-68 enters the cells, and possibly accumulates in the endocytic pathway. CHO cells showed an average uptake of 11.7 ± 6.7 (SEM) µg PF-68/106 cells while the uptake of chondrocytes was 56.0 ± 10.9 (SEM) µg PF-68/106 cells, independently of the initial PF-68 concentration (between 0.01 and 0.2%, w/v) and of cell concentration (from 1 × 106 to 4 × 106 cells/mL). These uptake values were identical for both static and agitated culture conditions. Finally, we found that CHO cells are able to eliminate intracellular fluorescent PF-68 but chondrocytes are not. These results show that the uptake of PF-68 by the cells can severely affect PF-68 concentration in the culture medium and thus shear protection effect. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2008;100: 975–987. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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