Nanosecond, high-intensity pulsed electric fields induce apoptosis in human cells

FASEB J. 2003 Aug;17(11):1493-5. doi: 10.1096/fj.02-0859fje. Epub 2003 Jun 17.


Electroporation by using pulsed electric fields with long durations compared with the charging time of the plasma membrane can induce cell fusion or introduce xenomolecules into cells. Nanosecond pulse power technology generates pulses with high-intensity electric fields, but with such short durations that the charging time of the plasma membrane is not reached, but intracellular membranes are affected. To determine more specifically their effects on cell structure and function, human cells were exposed to high intensity (up to 300 kV/cm) nanosecond (10-300 ns) pulsed electric fields (nsPEF) and were analyzed at the cellular and molecular levels. As the pulse duration decreased, plasma membrane electroporation decreased and appearances of apoptosis markers were delayed. NsPEF induced apoptosis within tens of minutes, depending on the pulse duration. Annexin-V binding, caspase activation, decreased forward light scatter, and cytochrome c release into the cytoplasm were coincident. Apoptosis was caspase- and mitochondria-dependent but independent of plasma membrane electroporation and thermal changes. The results suggest that with decreasing pulse durations, nsPEF modulate cell signaling from the plasma membrane to intracellular structures and functions. NsPEF technology provides a unique, high-power, energy-independent tool to recruit plasma membrane and/or intracellular signaling mechanisms that can delete aberrant cells by apoptosis.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Chloromethyl Ketones / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cells
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Electroporation*
  • HL-60 Cells
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Signal Transduction
  • Time Factors


  • Amino Acid Chloromethyl Ketones
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • benzyloxycarbonylvalyl-alanyl-aspartyl fluoromethyl ketone
  • Caspases