, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 273-284

Subfractionation of cell populations by partitioning in dextran-poly(ethylene glycol) aqueous phases

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Partitioning of cells in dextran-poly(ethylene glycol) aqueous two-phase systems depends on the interaction between the surface properties of the cells and the physical properties of the phases. The latter can be manipulated to a considerable extent by selection of polymer concentrations and ionic composition and concentration. If salts (e.g., phopshate) are used that have an unequal affinity for the two phases, an electrostatic potential difference between the phases results and, at appropriately high polymer concentrations, the partition coefficient of cells is determined predominantly by membrane charge-associated properties. By “balancing” the magnitude of the electrostatic potential difference against that of the interfacial tension (primarily a function of polymer, but also phosphate, concentrations) one can obtain phase systems that give usable partition coefficients for most cell populations (1).

In work under way in our laboratory on the effects of different chemical and enzymatic modifications on the relative surface properties of rat red blood cells of different ages, we have now found that certain phase compositions did not resolve such treated cell subpopulations while other phase compositions did. Thus not all charged phase systems in which cell populations as a whole have usable partition coefficients are equally capable of detecting or subfractionating cell subpopulations. It is therefore essential, before drawing conclusions on the nonseqarability of cell subpopulations, to test cell separability in charged phase systems of different compositions if the system initially chosen does not afford a subfractionation.