Physiological Reviews

Controlling Cell Behavior Electrically: Current Views and Future Potential

Colin D. McCaig, Ann M. Rajnicek, Bing Song, Min Zhao


Direct-current (DC) electric fields are present in all developing and regenerating animal tissues, yet their existence and potential impact on tissue repair and development are largely ignored. This is primarily due to ignorance of the phenomenon by most researchers, some technically poor early studies of the effects of applied fields on cells, and widespread misunderstanding of the fundamental concepts that underlie bioelectricity. This review aims to resolve these issues by describing: 1) the historical context of bioelectricity, 2) the fundamental principles of physics and physiology responsible for DC electric fields within cells and tissues, 3) the cellular mechanisms for the effects of small electric fields on cell behavior, and 4) the clinical potential for electric field treatment of damaged tissues such as epithelia and the nervous system.

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