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Membrane Fusion and Deformation of Red Blood Cells by Electric Fields

Scheurich, Peter, Zimmermann, Ulrich, Mischel, Maja, Lamprecht, Ingolf
Zeitschrift für Naturforschung 2014 v.35 no.11-12 pp. 1081-1085
cell fusion, cell membranes, deformation, dielectrophoresis, electric field, electric power, electrical conductivity, electrodes, erythrocytes, hemolysis, humans, membrane fusion, osmotic stress
Human red blood cells suspended in a slightly hypotonic solution of low electric conductivity were exposed to an inhomogeneous and alternating electric field (sine wave, 30 V peak-to-peak value, electrode distance 120 μm, 0.5 to 2 MHz). Due to the dielectrophoretic effect the cells align parallel to the field lines under the formation of pearl chains. At high voltages (10 V amplitude) membrane fusion is observed between the adhered red blood cells in the pearl chains, whereby the chains become attached to the electrodes. In contrast to the pearl chains observed at voltages of up to 5 V amplitude the resulting fused and uniform aggregates which exhibit no recognisable individual cells under the light microscope, remain stable, even after the alternating electric field has been switched off or after haemolysis in response to osmotic shock. The fused aggregates are highly elastic. If the field strength of the applied alternating electric field is further increased they are stretched in the direction of the opposite electrode. Frequently, bridges are formed between the two electrodes. The uniform bridges remain stable for some time even in the absence of an electric field. The possibility of cell fusion and its initiation by electrical breakdown of the cell membranes are discussed.