The relative thermal stability of tissue macromolecules and cellular structure in burn injury

F. Despa, D. P. Orgill, J. Neuwalder, R. C. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


When tissue is subjected to higher than physiological temperatures, protein and cell organelle structures can be altered resulting in cell death and subsequent tissue necrosis. A burn injury can be stratified into three main zones, coagulation, stasis and edema, which correlate with the extent of heat exposure and thermal properties of the tissue. While there has been considerable effort to characterize the time-temperature dependence of the injury, relatively little attention has been paid to the other important variable, the thermal susceptibility of the tissue. In the present study, we employ a standard physical chemistry approach to predict the level of denaturation at supraphysiological temperatures of 12 vital proteins as well as RNA, DNA and cell membrane components. Melting temperatures and unfolding enthalpies of the cellular components are used as input experimental parameters. This approach allows us to establish a relation between the level of denaturation of critical cellular components and clinical manifestations of the burn through the characteristic zones of the injury. Specifically, we evaluate the degree of molecular alteration for characteristic temperature profiles at two different depths (Mid-Dermis and Dermis-Fat interface) of 80°C; 20 s contact burn. The results of this investigation suggest that the thermal alteration of the plasma membrane is likely the most significant cause of the tissue necrosis. The lipid bilayer and membrane-bound ATPases show a high probability of thermal damage (almost 100% for the former and 85% for the latter) for short heat exposure times. These results suggest that strategies to minimize the damage in a burn injury might focus on the stabilization of the cellular membrane and membrane-bound ATPases. Further work will be required to validate these predictions in an in vivo model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)568-577
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research presented here has been partly supported by the National Institutes of Health, grants R01 GM61101 (RCL) and R01 GM64757 (RCL), and The Electric Power Research Institute (RCL).


  • Burn
  • Membrane poration
  • Model
  • Molecular stability
  • Protein denaturation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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