Directed migration of corneal epithelial sheets in physiological electric fields

Min Zhao, Adriana Agius-Fernandez, John V. Forrester, Colin D. McCaig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Purpose. To characterize the effects of small applied electric fields (EFs) (100 to 250 mV/mm) on cultured bovine corneal epithelial cell (CEC) sheets and to determine how EFs interact with other environmental cues in directing CEC sheet migration. Methods. Primary cultures of bovine CECs were exposed to EFs in medium with or without serum, epithelial growth factor, basic fibroblast growth factor, or transforming growth factor-β1. Cell sheet migration was traced using an image analyzer. Results. Cell sheets migrated toward the cathode (negative pole). The directional migration was voltage dependent, and, at low field strength (up to 200 mV/mm), it required serum in the medium. Sheets showed no migration responses up to 200 mV/mm in serum-free medium, whereas those in medium with serum showed evident migration toward the cathode, at an average rate of approximately 15 μm/h (n = 15 ~ 20) at 150 mV/mm. When serum was present, the threshold was below 100 mV/mm, very close to the measured wound field strength (~42 mV/mm). After supplementing serum-free medium with individual growth factors or with combinations of epithelial growth factor, basic fibroblast growth factor, and transforming growth factor-β1, significant restoration of cathode- directed migration occurred at 150 mV/mm. Lamellipodia were abundant at the leading edges of migrating sheets, extending the area of sheets covered. The extension of cell membranes toward the cathode was more prominent in cell sheets than in single cells. Conclusions. The endogenous EFs generated by wounded cornea could play an important role by interacting with other environmental factors to promote changes in shape and in directed migration of CEC sheets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2548-2558
Number of pages11
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number13
StatePublished - Dec 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • cell sheet migration
  • corneal epithelial cells
  • electric fields
  • galvanotaxis
  • wound healing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology


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