A pulsed electric field enhances cutaneous delivery of methylene blue in excised full-thickness porcine skin

J Invest Dermatol. 1998 Sep;111(3):457-63. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.1998.00301.x.


We used electric pulses to permeabilize porcine stratum corneum and demonstrate enhanced epidermal transport of methylene blue, a water-soluble cationic dye. Electrodes were placed on the outer surface of excised full-thickness porcine skin, and methylene blue was applied to the skin beneath the positive electrode; 1 ms pulses of up to 240 V were delivered at frequencies of 20-100 Hz for up to 30 min. The amount of dye in a skin sample was determined from absorbance spectra of dissolved punch biopsy sections. Penetration depth and concentration of the dye were measured with light and fluorescence microscopy of cryosections. At an electric exposure dose VT (applied voltage x frequency x pulse width x treatment duration) of about 4700 Vs, there is a threshold for efficient drug delivery. Increasing the applied voltage or field application time resulted in increased dye penetration. Transport induced by electric pulses was more than an order of magnitude greater than that seen following iontophoresis. We believe that the enhanced cutaneous delivery of methylene blue is due to a combination of de novo permeabilization of the stratum corneum by electric pulses, passive diffusion through the permeabilization sites, and electrophoretic and electroosmotic transport by the electric pulses. Pulsed electric fields may have important applications for drug delivery in a variety of fields where topical drug delivery is a goal.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Animals
  • Coloring Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Diffusion
  • Electrochemistry
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Electroporation
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Iontophoresis
  • Methylene Blue / pharmacokinetics*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Swine


  • Coloring Agents
  • Methylene Blue