Extracellular electrical fields direct wound healing and regeneration

Biol Bull. 2011 Aug;221(1):79-92. doi: 10.1086/BBLv221n1p79.


Endogenous DC electric fields (EFs) are important, fundamental components of development, regeneration, and wound healing. The fields are the result of polarized ion transport and current flow through electrically conductive pathways. Nullification of endogenous EFs with pharmacological agents or applied EFs of opposite polarity disturbs the aforementioned processes, while enhancement increases the rate of wound closure and the extent of regeneration. EFs are applied to humans in the clinic, to provide an overwhelming signal for the enhancement of healing of chronic wounds. Although clinical trials, spanning a course of decades, have shown that applied EFs enhance healing of chronic wounds, the mechanisms by which cells sense and respond to these weak cues remains unknown. EFs are thought to influence many different processes in vivo. However, under more rigorously controlled conditions in vitro, applied EFs induce cellular polarity and direct migration and outgrowth. Here we review the generation of endogenous EFs, the results of their alteration, and the mechanisms by which cells may sense these weak fields. Understanding the mechanisms by which native and applied EFs direct development and repair will enable current and future therapeutic applications to be optimized.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Polarity
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Embryonic Development
  • Humans
  • Ion Transport
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Models, Biological
  • Regeneration / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Wound Healing / physiology*
  • Xenopus