Fact Checked

What is Cell Lysis?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

Cell lysis is a process in which a cell is broken down or destroyed as a result of some external force or condition. Lysis can happen through natural means, such as viral infections, or through artificial means for research purposes. The resulting substance that contains the previous contents of the destroyed cell is referred to as the lysate; a substance that causes lysis, particularly an antibody, is called a lysin.

Simple osmosis is one of the most common causes of cell lysis in plants and in animals. In cytolysis, the cell has a higher salt concentration that its surroundings, so water flows into the cell through osmosis, causing it to burst. In plasmolysis, on the other hand, the cell loses water through osmosis because of evaporation or because of a high salt concentration outside of the cell. This process eventually causes lysis as the cell shrivels and dies. Plasmolysis is particularly common in plant cells which often lose significant amounts of water because of hot, dry conditions.

Spinning blades or a blender can be a mechanical way to cause cell lysis in a large group of cells.
Spinning blades or a blender can be a mechanical way to cause cell lysis in a large group of cells.

It is not uncommon to intentionally induce cell lysis during the course of an experiment or research project. There are many different methods used to cause lysis; the specific method used is based on the needs of the particular experiment. When one needs to cause lysis in large numbers of cells or in a clump of solid tissue, mechanical methods such as spinning blades or blenders are sometimes useful. Another method is sonication, in which high-frequency sound waves are used to disrupt and destroy cells. A third method involves repeatedly freezing and thawing groups of cells with the goal of forming ice crystals that will penetrate the cells.

Enzymes can be used to remove cell walls.
Enzymes can be used to remove cell walls.

Cell lysis falls into the broad category of cell disruption, which describes processes that release the biological material that exists within the cell. There are many different lab techniques that are used to cause cell disruption as well. Enzymes, for example, are commonly used to remove cell walls in preparation for further cellular disruption which may include eventual cell lysis.

Bacterial cells are often destroyed through cell lysis because of the action of certain enzymes that are common in the saliva, tears, and mucous of various animals. These enzymes are typically referred to as lysozymes. Lysozymes play an important role in the human immune system; low levels of lysozymes have been correlated with increased instances of bacterial infection. These enzymes attack the bonds that hold the cell walls and other structures of bacterial cells together, eventually causing lysis.

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Discussion Comments


I have SLE and the infusion drug I take called Benlysta kills off my excess B cells. I often have I visible cell lysis rash post infusion. There are other reasons that cell lysis can be purposely induced such as certain types of cancer.


Will a cell lyse faster with a large or small concentration of salt outside the cell?


@cardsfan27 - The main reason I can think of for why scientists would want to destroy cells is so that they can perform experiments testing the cytoplasm, or the liquid that is on the inside of cells.

As you may know, enzymes can work by joining with certain proteins and eventually destroying them. The enzymes researchers use would be specially designed to only target proteins that make up a cell wall in plants or cell membrane in animals.

Does anyone here know how blood cell lysis works? I have read several times that blood cells are very short lived, which would mean they need to be destroyed and replaced regularly. In what organ of the body does this happen, and how are the cells destroyed?


I'm interested in how cell lysis is used in laboratories. The article mentions different ways that scientists can destroy cells, but what is the use after they are destroyed?

Also, in terms of cell membrane lysis, how exactly do the enzymes break down the outer layer of the cell? What stops them from destroying the whole cell? I'm wondering if bacteria or various other cells have special mechanisms in place to stop lysis from happening.


@Izzy78 - That is a really good question. You are right that cells can kill themselves in extreme situations. The process is called apoptosis. I don't know all the ways that a cell can do it, but I think one way is just for it to destroy its DNA. By doing that, it can't pass on any imperfections.

After the cell dies, it is quickly broken up and destroyed. The organism has to be careful that the inside fluids don't spill out of the cell, otherwise it could destroy other cells around it.

I know that these things happen because of an example of plant cell lysis. When some plants contract a disease and an area becomes infected, a lot of the other cells around the area will kill themselves to stop the disease from spreading.


I knew lysis could refer to cells dying or being killed, but I didn't realize it could also be a general term for any type of cell destruction.

The article doesn't directly mention it, but I know cells are able to kill themselves, too. I think this usually happens as a sort of self destruct mechanism when the cell realizes that its DNA is messed up somehow.

Are there any other reasons that a cell might kill itself? How exactly does it go about doing it?

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    • Spinning blades or a blender can be a mechanical way to cause cell lysis in a large group of cells.
      By: gawriloff
      Spinning blades or a blender can be a mechanical way to cause cell lysis in a large group of cells.
    • Enzymes can be used to remove cell walls.
      By: snapgalleria
      Enzymes can be used to remove cell walls.