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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 Aug 5;1724(3):248-54. Epub 2005 Apr 21.

New insights in the visualization of membrane permeabilization and DNA/membrane interaction of cells submitted to electric pulses.

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Institut de Pharmacologie et de Biologie Structurale du CNRS (UMR5089), 205, Route de Narbonne, 31077 Toulouse cedex 4, France.


Electropermeabilization designates the use of electric pulses to overcome the barrier of the cell membrane. This physical method is used to transfer anticancer drugs or genes into living cells. Its mechanism remains to be elucidated. A position-dependent modulation of the membrane potential difference is induced, leading to a transient and reversible local membrane alteration. Electropermeabilization allows a fast exchange of small hydrophilic molecules across the membrane. It occurs at the positions of the cell facing the two electrodes on an asymmetrical way. In the case of DNA transfer, a complex process is present, involving a key step of electrophoretically driven association of DNA only with the destabilized membrane facing the cathode. We report here at the membrane level, by using fluorescence microscopy, the visualization of the effect of the polarity and the orientation of electric pulses on membrane permeabilization and gene transfer. Membrane permeabilization depends on electric field orientation. Moreover, at a given electric field orientation, it becomes symmetrical for pulses of reversed polarities. The area of cell membrane where DNA interacts is increased by applying electric pulses with different orientations and polarities, leading to an increase in gene expression. Interestingly, under reversed polarity conditions, part of the DNA associated with the membrane can be removed, showing some evidence for two states of DNA in interaction with the membrane: DNA reversibly associated and DNA irreversibly inserted.

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