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Nanomaterials (Basel). 2020 Feb 5;10(2). pii: E265. doi: 10.3390/nano10020265.

Investigation of the Electrical Properties of Microtubule Ensembles under Cell-Like Conditions.

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Department of Physics, University of Alberta, 11335 Saskatchewan Dr NW, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2M9, Canada.
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Alberta, 9107-116 St, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2V4, Canada .
Department of Physical Sciences, MacEwan University, Edmonton, Alberta, T5J 4S2, Canada.
Department of Oncology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 1Z2, Canada.


Microtubules are hollow cylindrical polymers composed of the highly negatively-charged (~23e), high dipole moment (1750 D) protein α, β- tubulin. While the roles of microtubules in chromosomal segregation, macromolecular transport, and cell migration are relatively well-understood, studies on the electrical properties of microtubules have only recently gained strong interest. Here, we show that while microtubules at physiological concentrations increase solution capacitance, free tubulin has no appreciable effect. Further, we observed a decrease in electrical resistance of solution, with charge transport peaking between 20-60 Hz in the presence of microtubules, consistent with recent findings that microtubules exhibit electric oscillations at such low frequencies. We were able to quantify the capacitance and resistance of the microtubules (MT) network at physiological tubulin concentrations to be 1.27 × 10-5 F and 9.74 × 104 Ω. Our results show that in addition to macromolecular transport, microtubules also act as charge storage devices through counterionic condensation across a broad frequency spectrum. We conclude with a hypothesis of an electrically tunable cytoskeleton where the dielectric properties of tubulin are polymerisation-state dependent.


bioelectricity; bionanowires; cytoskeleton; impedance spectroscopy; microtubules; neuronal charge storage

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.

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