Nanosecond pulsed electric fields modulate cell function through intracellular signal transduction mechanisms

Stephen J. Beebe, Peter F. Blackmore, Jody White, Ravindra P. Joshi, Karl H. Schoenbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Scopus citations


These studies describe the effects of nanosecond (10-300 ns) pulsed electric fields (nsPEF) on mammalian cell structure and function. As the pulse durations decrease, effects on the plasma membrane (PM) decrease and effects on intracellular signal transduction mechanisms increase. When nsPEF-induced PM electroporation effects occur, they are distinct from classical PM electroporation effects, suggesting unique, nsPEF-induced PM modulations. In HL-60 cells, nsPEF that are well below the threshold for PM electroporation and apoptosis induction induce effects that are similar to purinergic agonist-mediated calcium release from intracellular stores, which secondarily initiate capacitive calcium influx through store-operated calcium channels in the PM. NsPEF with durations and electric field intensities that do or do not cause PM electroporation, induce apoptosis in mammalian cells with a well-characterized phenotype typified by externalization of phosphatidylserine on the outer PM and activation of caspase proteases. Treatment of mouse fibrosarcoma tumors with nsPEF also results in apoptosis induction. When Jurkat cells were transfected by electroporation and then treated with nsPEF, green fluorescent protein expression was enhanced compared to electroporation alone. The results indicate that nsPEF activate intracellular mechanisms that can determine cell function and fate, providing an important new tool for probing signal transduction mechanisms that modulate cell structure and function and for potential therapeutic applications for cancer and gene therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1077-1093
Number of pages17
JournalPhysiological Measurement
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004


  • Apoptosis
  • Calcium mobilization
  • Electroporation
  • Gene expression
  • Tumor treatment
  • Ultrashort pulsed electric fields


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