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Recently there has been intense and growing interest in the non-thermal biological effects of nanosecond electric pulses, particularly apoptosis induction. These effects have been hypothesized to result from the widespread creation of small, lipidic pores in the plasma and organelle membranes of cells (supra-electroporation) and, more specifically, ionic and molecular transport through these pores. Here we show that transport occurs overwhelmingly after pulsing. First, we show that the electrical drift distance for typical charged solutes during nanosecond pulses (up to 100 ns), even those with very large magnitudes (up to 10 MV/m), ranges from only a fraction of the membrane thickness (5 nm) to several membrane thicknesses. This is much smaller than the diameter of a typical cell (∼16 μm), which implies that molecular drift transport during nanosecond pulses is necessarily minimal. This implication is not dependent on assumptions about pore density or the molecular flux through pores. Second, we show that molecular transport resulting from post-pulse diffusion through minimum-size pores is orders of magnitude larger than electrical drift-driven transport during nanosecond pulses. While field-assisted charge entry and the magnitude of flux favor transport during nanosecond pulses, these effects are too small to overcome the orders of magnitude more time available for post-pulse transport. Therefore, the basic conclusion that essentially all transmembrane molecular transport occurs post-pulse holds across the plausible range of relevant parameters. Our analysis shows that a primary direct consequence of nanosecond electric pulses is the creation (or maintenance) of large populations of small pores in cell membranes that govern post-pulse transmembrane transport of small ions and molecules. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Kyle C Smith, James C Weaver. Transmembrane molecular transport during versus after extremely large, nanosecond electric pulses. Biochemical and biophysical research communications. 2011 Aug 19;412(1):8-12

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PMID: 21756883

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