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Biophys J. 2010 Aug 4;99(3):845-52. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2010.05.025.

Cell membrane tethers generate mechanical force in response to electrical stimulation.

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  • 1Bobby R. Alford Department of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, and Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA.


Living cells maintain a huge transmembrane electric field across their membranes. This electric field exerts a force on the membrane because the membrane surfaces are highly charged. We have measured electromechanical force generation by cell membranes using optically trapped beads to detach the plasma membrane from the cytoskeleton and form long thin cylinders (tethers). Hyperpolarizing potentials increased and depolarizing potentials decreased the force required to pull a tether. The membrane tether force in response to sinusoidal voltage signals was a function of holding potential, tether diameter, and tether length. Membrane electromechanical force production can occur at speeds exceeding those of ATP-based protein motors. By harnessing the energy in the transmembrane electric field, cell membranes may contribute to processes as diverse as outer hair cell electromotility, ion channel gating, and transport.

2010 Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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