Plasma membrane charging of Jurkat cells by nanosecond pulsed electric fields

Jody A. White, Uwe Pliquett, Peter F. Blackmore, Ravindra P. Joshi, Karl H. Schoenbach, Juergen F. Kolb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The initial effect of nanosecond pulsed electric fields (nsPEFs) on cells is a change of charge distributions along membranes. This first response is observed as a sudden shift in the plasma transmembrane potential that is faster than can be attributed to any physiological event. These immediate, yet transient, effects are only measurable if the diagnostic is faster than the exposure, i.e., on a nanosecond time scale. In this study, we monitored changes in the plasma transmembrane potential of Jurkat cells exposed to nsPEFs of 60 ns and amplitudes from 5 to 90 kV/cm with a temporal resolution of 5 ns by means of the fast voltage-sensitive dye Annine-6. The measurements suggest the contribution of both dipole effects and asymmetric conduction currents across opposite sides of the cell to the charging. With the application of higher field strengths the membrane charges until a threshold voltage value of 1.4-1.6 V is attained at the anodic pole. This indicates when the ion exchange rates exceed charging currents, thus providing strong evidence for pore formation. Prior to reaching this threshold, the time for the charging of the membrane by conductive currents is qualitatively in agreement with accepted models of membrane charging, which predict longer charging times for lower field strengths. The comparison of the data with previous studies suggests that the sub-physiological induced ionic imbalances may trigger other intracellular signaling events leading to dramatic outcomes, such as apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)947-957
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Biophysics Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Annine-6
  • Membrane poration
  • Plasma membrane charging
  • Real-time fluorescence imaging
  • nsPEF


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