Time courses of mammalian cell electropermeabilization observed by millisecond imaging of membrane property changes during the pulse

Biophys J. 1999 Apr;76(4):2158-65. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(99)77370-4.


Time courses of electropermeabilization were analyzed during the electric field application using a rapid fluorescent imaging system. Exchanges of calcium ions through electropermeabilized membrane of Chinese hamster ovary cells were found to be asymmetrical. Entry of calcium ions during a millisecond pulse occurred on the anode-facing cell hemisphere. Entry through the region facing the cathode was observed only after the pulse. Leakage of intracellular calcium ions from electropermeabilized cell in low-calcium content medium was observed only from the anode-facing side. The exchanges during the pulse were mostly due to diffusion-driven processes, i.e., governed by the concentration gradient. Interaction of propidium iodide, a dye sensitive to the structural alteration of membrane, with cell membrane was asymmetrical during electropermeabilization. Localized enhancement of the dye fluorescence was observed during and after the pulsation on the cell surface. Specific staining of a limited anode-facing part of the membrane was observed as soon as the pulse was applied. The membrane fluorescence level increased during and immediately after the pulse whereas the geometry of the staining was unchanged. The membrane regions stained by propidium iodide were the same as those where calcium exchanges occurred. The fraction of the membrane on which structural alterations occurred was defined by the field strength. The density of defects was governed by the pulse duration. Electropermeabilization is a localized but asymmetrical process. The membrane defects are created unequally on the two cell sides during the pulse, implying a vectorial effect of the electric field on the membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • CHO Cells
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / physiology*
  • Coloring Agents
  • Cricetinae
  • Electric Stimulation
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Ion Transport
  • Propidium


  • Coloring Agents
  • Propidium
  • Calcium