Enhancing Irreversible Electroporation by Manipulating Cellular Biophysics with a Molecular Adjuvant

Biophys J. 2017 Jul 25;113(2):472-480. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2017.06.014.


Pulsed electric fields applied to cells have been used as an invaluable research tool to enhance delivery of genes or other intracellular cargo, as well as for tumor treatment via electrochemotherapy or tissue ablation. These processes involve the buildup of charge across the cell membrane, with subsequent alteration of transmembrane potential that is a function of cell biophysics and geometry. For traditional electroporation parameters, larger cells experience a greater degree of membrane potential alteration. However, we have recently demonstrated that the nuclear/cytoplasm ratio (NCR), rather than cell size, is a key predictor of response for cells treated with high-frequency irreversible electroporation (IRE). In this study, we leverage a targeted molecular therapy, ephrinA1, known to markedly collapse the cytoplasm of cells expressing the EphA2 receptor, to investigate how biophysical cellular changes resulting from NCR manipulation affect the response to IRE at varying frequencies. We present evidence that the increase in the NCR mitigates the cell death response to conventional electroporation pulsed-electric fields (∼100 μs), consistent with the previously noted size dependence. However, this same molecular treatment enhanced the cell death response to high-frequency electric fields (∼1 μs). This finding demonstrates the importance of considering cellular biophysics and frequency-dependent effects in developing electroporation protocols, and our approach provides, to our knowledge, a novel and direct experimental methodology to quantify the relationship between cell morphology, pulse frequency, and electroporation response. Finally, this novel, to our knowledge, combinatorial approach may provide a paradigm to enhance in vivo tumor ablation through a molecular manipulation of cellular morphology before IRE application.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / drug effects
  • Astrocytes / pathology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Size
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Collagen
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Electroporation / methods*
  • Ephrin-A1 / pharmacology*
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Glioma / drug therapy
  • Glioma / pathology
  • Glioma / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hydrogels
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods*
  • Rats
  • Receptor, EphA2 / metabolism


  • Ephrin-A1
  • Hydrogels
  • Collagen
  • Receptor, EphA2