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The changing dielectric properties of CHO cells can be used to determine early apoptotic events in a bioprocess


  • Braasch and Nikolic-Jaric contributed equally to this work.


To ensure maximum productivity of recombinant proteins it is desirable to prolong cell viability during a mammalian cell bioprocess, and therefore important to carefully monitor cell density and viability. In this study, five different and independent methods of monitoring were applied to Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells grown in a batch culture in a controlled bioreactor to determine cell density and/or cell viability. They included: a particle counter, trypan blue exclusion (Cedex), an in situ bulk capacitance probe, an off-line fluorescent flow cytometer, and a prototype dielectrophoretic (DEP) cytometer. These various techniques gave similar values during the exponential growth phase. However, beyond the exponential growth phase the viability measurements diverged. Fluorescent flow cytometry with a range of fluorescent markers was used to investigate this divergence and to establish the progress of cell apoptosis: the cell density estimates by the intermediate stage apoptosis assay agreed with those obtained by the bulk capacitance probe and the early stage apoptosis assay viability measurements correlated well with the DEP cytometer. The trypan blue assay showed higher estimates of viable cell density and viability compared to the capacitance probe or the DEP cytometer. The DEP cytometer measures the dielectric properties of individual cells and identified at least two populations of cells, each with a distinct polarizability. As verified by comparison with the Nexin assay, one population was associated with viable (non-apoptotic) cells and the other with apoptotic cells. From the end of the exponential through the stationary and decline stages there was a gradual shift of cell count from the viable into the apoptotic population. However, the two populations maintained their individual dielectric properties throughout this shift. This leads to the conclusion that changes in bulk dielectric properties of cultures might be better modeled as shifts in cells between different dielectric sub-populations, rather than assuming a homogeneous dielectric population. This shows that bulk dielectric probes are sensitive to the early apoptotic changes in cells. DEP cytometry offers a novel and unique technology for analyzing and characterizing mammalian cells based on their dielectric properties, and suggests a potential application of the device as a low-cost, label-free, electronic monitor of physiological changes in cells. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013;110: 2902–2914. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.