The electric field near human skin wounds declines with age and provides a noninvasive indicator of wound healing

Wound Repair Regen. 2011 Sep-Oct;19(5):645-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-475X.2011.00723.x.


Due to the transepidermal potential of 15-50 mV, inside positive, an injury current is driven out of all human skin wounds. The flow of this current generates a lateral electric field within the epidermis that is more negative at the wound edge than at regions more lateral from the wound edge. Electric fields in this region could be as large as 40 mV/mm, and electric fields of this magnitude have been shown to stimulate human keratinocyte migration toward the wounded region. After flowing out of the wound, the current returns through the space between the epidermis and stratum corneum, generating a lateral field above the epidermis in the opposite direction. Here, we report the results from the first clinical trial designed to measure this lateral electric field adjacent to human skin wounds noninvasively. Using a new instrument, the Dermacorder®, we found that the mean lateral electric field in the space between the epidermis and stratum corneum adjacent to a lancet wound in 18-25-year-olds is 107-148 mV/mm, 48% larger on average than that in 65-80-year-olds. We also conducted extensive measurements of the lateral electric field adjacent to mouse wounds as they healed and compared this field with histological sections through the wound to determine the correlation between the electric field and the rate of epithelial wound closure. Immediately after wounding, the average lateral electric field was 122 ± 9 mV/mm. When the wound is filled in with a thick, disorganized epidermal layer, the mean field falls to 79 ± 4 mV/mm. Once this epidermis forms a compact structure with only three cell layers, the mean field is 59 ± 5 mV/mm. Thus, the peak-to-peak spatial variation in surface potential is largest in fresh wounds and slowly declines as the wound closes. The rate of wound healing is slightly greater when wounds are kept moist as expected, but we could find no correlation between the amplitude of the electric field and the rate of wound healing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena*
  • Epidermis / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Hairless
  • Skin / injuries*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Wound Healing / physiology*
  • Young Adult