, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp 313–320 | Cite as

A high concentration of DMSO activates caspase-1 by increasing the cell membrane permeability of potassium

  • Yang XiangEmail author
  • Ming-ming Zhao
  • Sujiao Sun
  • Xiao-Long Guo
  • Qiquan Wang
  • Sheng-An Li
  • Wen-Hui Lee
  • Yun ZhangEmail author
Original Article


Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is widely used in the laboratory and in clinical situations because it is soluble in both aqueous and organic media and can be used to treat many types of diseases. Thus, it is meaningful to assess the comprehensive and in-depth biological activities of DMSO. Here, we showed that a high concentration of DMSO induced pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-1β (IL-1β) secretion from the monocytic cell line THP-1. DMSO-induced IL-1β secretion was dependent on intracellular caspase-1 activation. Further study revealed that the activation of caspase-1 by DMSO relied on NLRP3 inflammasome formation. It is generally accepted that the NLRP3 inflammasome is activated by reactive oxygen species generation or potassium efflux; however, the common NLRP3 inflammasome trigger remains controversial. Here, we showed that although DMSO is a ROS scavenger, this chemical increases membrane permeability and potassium efflux, and the formation of the NLRP3 inflammasome reflects the increased membrane permeability and potassium efflux induced by DMSO. The present study reveals a new characteristic of DMSO, which should be considered when using this chemical in either the laboratory or the clinic.


DMSO NLRP3 inflammasome Potassium efflux Interleukin-1β 



This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China to Yang Xiang (91649120) and Sujiao Sun (81560697), Applied and basic research project of Yunnan Province (2014FB175) to Yang Xiang, and "Yunnan scholar" Program to Yun Zhang.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yang Xiang
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Ming-ming Zhao
    • 2
    • 4
  • Sujiao Sun
    • 3
  • Xiao-Long Guo
    • 2
  • Qiquan Wang
    • 2
    • 4
  • Sheng-An Li
    • 2
  • Wen-Hui Lee
    • 2
  • Yun Zhang
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Human Aging Research Institute and School of Life SciencesNanchang UniversityNanchangChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Animal Models and Human Disease MechanismsKunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of SciencesKunmingChina
  3. 3.Medical Cosmetology Teaching and Research SectionDali University School of Clinical MedicineDaliChina
  4. 4.Kunming College of Life ScienceUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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