Calcium bursts induced by nanosecond electric pulses

P. Thomas Vernier, Yinghua Sun, Laura Marcu, Sarah Salemi, Cheryl M. Craft, Martin A. Gundersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

325 Scopus citations


We report here real-time imaging of calcium bursts in human lymphocytes exposed to nanosecond, megavolt-per-meter pulsed electric fields. Ultra-short (less than 30ns), high-field (greater than 1MV/m), electric pulses induce increases in cytosolic calcium concentration and translocation of phosphatidylserine (PS) to the outer layer of the plasma membrane in Jurkat T lymphoblasts. Pulse-induced calcium bursts occur within milliseconds and PS externalization within minutes. Caspase activation and other indicators of apoptosis follow these initial symptoms of nanosecond pulse exposure. Pulse-induced PS translocation is observed even in the presence of caspase inhibitors. Ultra-short, high-field, electroperturbative pulse effects differ substantially from those associated with electroporation, where pulses of a few tens of kilovolts-per-meter lasting a few tens of microseconds open pores in the cytoplasmic membrane. Nanosecond pulsed electric fields, because their duration is less than the plasma membrane charging time, develop voltages across intracellular structures without porating the cell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)286-295
Number of pages10
JournalBiochemical and Biophysical Research Communications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 17 2003


  • Calcium burst
  • Electroperturbation
  • Electroporation
  • Phosphatidylserine externalization
  • Ultra-short nanosecond high-field electric pulse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Molecular Biology


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