Deformation but not migration and rotation – a model study on vesicle biomechanics in a uniform DC electric field

Hui Ye, Austen Curcuru


Background: Biological cells migrate, deform and rotate in various types of electric fields, which have significant impact on the normal cellular physiology. To investigate electrically-induced deformation, researchers have used artificial giant vesicles that mimic the phospholipid bilayer cell membrane. Containing primarily the neutral molecule phosphatidylcholine, these vesicles deformed under evenly distributed, strong direct current (DC) electric fields. Interestingly, they did not migrate or rotate. A biophysical mechanism underlying the kinematic differences between the biological cells and the vesicles under electric stimulation has not been worked out.

Methods: We modeled the vesicle as a leaky, dielectric sphere and computed the surface pressure, rotation torques and translation forces applied on the vesicle by a DC electric field. We compared these measurements with those in a biological cell that contains non-zero, intrinsic charges (carried by the functional groups on the membrane).

Results: For both the vesicle and the cell, the electrically-induced charges interacted with the local electric field to generate radial pressure for deformation. However, due to the symmetrical distribution of both the charges and the electric field on the vesicle/cell surface, the electric field could not generate net translation force or rotational torques. For a biological cell, the intrinsic charges carried by the cell membrane could account for its migration and rotation in a DC electric field.

Conclusions: Results from this work suggests an interesting control diagram of cellular kinematics and movements by the electric field: cell deformation and migration can be manipulated by directly targeting different charged groups on the membrane. Fate of the cell in an electric field depends not only on the delicately controlled field parameters, but also on the biological properties of the cell.

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Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Informatics

ISSN 2377-9381(Print)  ISSN 2377-939X(Online)

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