HEPES is commonly used in cell culture media as a buffering substance. Compared to the bicarbonate/CO2 buffer system, it does not require a CO2 atmosphere, thereby ensuring stable pH values during handling of cell culture media outside of an incubator. Due to its intrinsic charge, HEPES is considered not to be taken up by cells, which was a prerequisite during buffer development for cell culture by Good and colleagues. However, during the last years, evidence has emerged that HEPES seems to be taken up into cells and that it has major effects on cellular functions. Investigating three different cell lines (MCF-7, U2OS, HeLa) showed that all of them accommodated HEPES-containing medium, i.e., they survive and proliferate in the presence of HEPES. Determination of intracellular metabolites revealed the presence of HEPES for all cell lines. Further analysis of MCF-7 cells showed that even 48 h after medium exchange from HEPES-containing medium to HEPES-free medium, intracellular HEPES could still be detected. Thus, contrary to the common view, HEPES is taken up by cells which should be taken into consideration for studies of specific cellular functions.
Gey C, Seeger K. Metabolic changes investigated by proton NMR spectroscopy in cells undergoing oncogene-induced senescence. In: Nikiforov MA, editor. Oncogene-induced senescence: methods and protocols. New York: Springer New York; 2017. p. 155–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar