Summary: Exposure of the yeast to hypertonic solutions of non-permeating compounds resulted in cell shrinkage, without plasmolysis. The relationship between cell volume and osmolality was non-linear; between 1 and 4 osm there was a plateau in cell volume, with apparently a resistance to further shrinkage; beyond 4 osm cell volume was reduced further. The loss of viability of after hypertonic stress was directly related to the reduction in cell volume in the shrunken state. The plasma membrane is often considered to be the primary site of osmotic injury, but on resuspension from a hypertonic stress, which would have resulted in a major loss of viability, all cells were osmotically responsive. The effects of osmotic stress on mitochondrial activity and structure were investigated using the fluorescent probe rhodamine 123. The patterns of rhodamine staining were altered only after extreme stress and are assumed to be a pathological feature rather than a primary cause of injury. Changes in the ultrastructure of the cell envelope were examined by freeze-fracture and scanning electron microscopy. In shrunken cells the wall increased in thickness, the outer surface remained unaltered, whilst the cytoplasmic side buckled with irregular projections into the cytoplasm. On return to isotonic solutions these structural alterations were reversible, suggesting a considerable degree of plasticity of the wall. However, the rate of enzyme digestion of the wall may have been modified, indicating that changes in wall structure persist.


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