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Biophys J. 2003 May;84(5):3087-101.

An experimental and theoretical analysis of ultrasound-induced permeabilization of cell membranes.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


Application of ultrasound transiently permeabilizes cell membranes and offers a nonchemical, nonviral, and noninvasive method for cellular drug delivery. Although the ability of ultrasound to increase transmembrane transport has been well demonstrated, a systematic dependence of transport on ultrasound parameters is not known. This study examined cell viability and cellular uptake of calcein using 3T3 mouse cell suspension as a model system. Cells were exposed to varying acoustic energy doses at four different frequencies in the low frequency regime (20-100 kHz). At all frequencies, cell viability decreased with increasing acoustic energy dose, while the fraction of cells exhibiting uptake of calcein showed a maximum at an intermediate energy dose. Acoustic spectra under various ultrasound conditions were also collected and assessed for the magnitude of broadband noise and subharmonic peaks. While the cell viability and transport data did not show any correlation with subharmonic (f/2) emission, they correlated with the broadband noise, suggesting a dominant contribution of transient cavitation. A theoretical model was developed to relate reversible and irreversible membrane permeabilization to the number of transient cavitation events. The model showed that nearly every stage of transient cavitation, including bubble expansion, collapse, and subsequent shock waves may contribute to membrane permeabilization. For each mechanism, the volume around the bubble within which bubbles induce reversible and irreversible membrane permeabilization was determined. Predictions of the model are consistent with experimental data.

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