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Plast Reconstr Surg. 1987 Nov;80(5):672-9.

Electrical injury mechanisms: electrical breakdown of cell membranes.

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  • 1Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.


Electric fields are capable of damaging cells through both thermal and nonthermal mechanisms. While joule heating is generally recognized to mediate tissue injury in electrical trauma, the possible role of electrical breakdown of cell membranes has not been thoroughly considered. Evidence is presented suggestive that in many instances of electrical trauma the local electrical field is of sufficient magnitude to cause electrical breakdown of cell membranes and cell lysis. In theory, large cells such as muscle and nerve cells are more vulnerable to electrical breakdown. To illustrate the significance of cell size and orientation, a geometrically simple model of an elongated cell is analyzed.

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