High electrical field effects on cell membranes

U. Pliquett, R. P. Joshi, V. Sridhara, K. H. Schoenbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Electrical charging of lipid membranes causes electroporation with sharp membrane conductance increases. Several recent observations, especially at very high field strength, are not compatible with the simple electroporation picture. Here we present several relevant experiments on cell electrical responses to very high external voltages. We hypothesize that, not only are aqueous pores created within the lipid membranes, but that nanoscale membrane fragmentation occurs, possibly with micelle formation. This effect would produce conductivity increases beyond simple electroporation and display a relatively fast turn-off with external voltage. In addition, material loss can be expected at the anode side of cells, in agreement with published experimental reports at high fields. Our hypothesis is qualitatively supported by molecular dynamics simulations. Finally, such cellular responses might temporarily inactivate voltage-gated and ion-pump activity, while not necessarily causing cell death. This hypothesis also supports observations on electrofusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-282
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Electrical Conductivity
  • Electroporation
  • High Field
  • Lipid Membrane
  • Molecular Dynamics


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