Cell volume is a biophysical property, which is of great importance for quantitative characterisations of biological processes, such as osmotic adaptation. It also is a crucial parameter in the most common type of mathematical description of cellular behaviour—ordinary differential equation (ODE) models, e.g. the integrative model of the osmotic stress response in baker's yeast (E. Klipp, B. Nordlander, R. Kruger, P. Gennemark and S. Hohmann, Nat. Biotechnol., 2005, 23, 975–982). Until recently only rough estimates of this value were available. In this study we measured the mean volume of more than 300 individual yeast cells (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). We quantitatively characterised the dependence between the relative cell volume and the concentration of osmoticum in the cell surrounding. We also followed the recovery of the cellular volume over time, as well as the influence of increased external osmolarity on the nuclear volume. We found that cell shrinkage caused by shifts in the external osmolarity is proportional to the stress intensity only up to 1000 mM NaCl. At this concentration the yeast cells shrink to approximately 55% of their unstressed volume and this volume is maintained even in the case of further osmolarity increase. We observed that returning to the initial, unstressed volume takes more than 45 minutes for stress concentrations exceeding 100 mM NaCl and that only cells treated with the latter concentration are able to fully regain their initial size within the course of the experiment. We postulate that the cytoplasm plays a protective role for the nucleus by buffering the changes in volume caused by external osmolarity shifts. In conclusion, we quantitatively characterised the dynamics of cell volume changes caused by hyperosmotic stress, providing an accurate description of a biophysical cell property, which is crucial for precise mathematical simulations of cellular processes.
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