Electrical fields in wound healing-An overriding signal that directs cell migration

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2009 Aug;20(6):674-82. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2008.12.009. Epub 2008 Dec 25.


Injury that disrupts an epithelial layer instantaneously generates endogenous electric fields (EFs), which were detected at human skin wounds over 150 years ago. Recent researches combining molecular, genetic and imaging techniques have provided significant insights into cellular and molecular responses to this "unconventional" signal. One unexpected finding is that the EFs play an overriding guidance role in directing cell migration in epithelial wound healing. In experimental models where other directional cues (e.g., contact inhibition release, population pressure etc.) are present, electric fields of physiological strength override them and direct cell migration. The electrotaxis or galvanotaxis is mediated by polarized activation of multiple signaling pathways that include PI3 kinases/Pten, membrane growth factor receptors and integrins. Genetic manipulation of PI3 kinase/Pten (Phosphoinositide 3-kinases/phosphatase and tensin homolog) and integrin beta4 demonstrated the importance of those molecules. The electric fields are therefore a fundamental signal that directs cell migration in wound healing. One of the most challenging question is: How do cells sense the very weak electric signals? Clinically, it is highly desirable to develop practical and reliable technologies for wound healing management exploiting the electric signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Integrins / metabolism
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic / physiology
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Wound Healing / physiology*


  • Integrins
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • ErbB Receptors
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • PTEN protein, human