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IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 2011 May;58(5):1239-45. doi: 10.1109/TBME.2011.2112360. Epub 2011 Feb 7.

Subnanosecond electric pulses cause membrane permeabilization and cell death.

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  • 1Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529, USA.


Subnanosecond electric pulses (200 ps) at electric field intensities on the order of 20 kV/cm cause the death of B16.F10 murine melanoma cells when applied for minutes with a pulse repetition rate of 10 kHz. The lethal effect of the ultrashort pulses is found to be caused by a combination of thermal effects and electrical effects. Studies on the cellular level show increased transport across the membrane at much lower exposure times or number of pulses. Exposed to 2000 pulses, NG108 cells exhibit an increase in membrane conductance, but only allow transmembrane currents to flow, if the medium is positively biased with respect to the cell interior. This means that the cell membrane behaves like a rectifying diode. This increase in membrane conductance is a nonthermal process, since the temperature rise due to the pulsing is negligible.

© 2011 IEEE

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