The suggestion is made that, in solution, the flexible-chain molecules of dextran can undergo an osmotic compression as concentration is increased. Approaches are developed described the molecular shrinkage (i) as arising from intra- and inter-molecular forces, (ii) based on the molecular characteristics of the dextran, and (iii) as estimated by viscosity measurements. Comparison with the macroscopic shrinkage of cross-linked dextran (Sephadex) beads [Edmond, Farquhar, Dunstone & Ogston (1968) Biochem. J. 108, 755-763] is made. In all systems studied, the experimental estimates of compression, both from gel-shrinkage and viscosity measurements were in reasonable agreement with theoretical predictions. The interpretation of the viscosity concentration-dependence was applied to compact structures (albumin and Percoll). Their behaviour was in marked contrast with that of dextran. It is noted that molecular compression may be important in considering transport processes in and thermodynamic properties of concentrated systems.

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