Human corneal epithelial cells reorient and migrate cathodally in a small applied electric field

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Purpose. To test whether human corneal epithelial cells (HCECs) respond to small applied electric fields (EFs) in a similar manner to bovine corneal epithelial cells (BCECs), the orientation and directed migration in small EFs of both primary cultures and of a human corneal epithelial cell line were quantified. Methods. Primary cultures of human corneal epithelial cells (PHCECs) and transformed human corneal epithelial cells (THCECs) were exposed to EFs (100 mV/mm-250 mV/mm) in different media. Cell migration was traced using an image analyser. Results. PHCECs and THCECs reoriented and migrated towards the cathode (negative pole) when cultured in small direct current (dc) EFs. Both the reorientation and directional migration were voltage- and serum-dependent, as shown previously for bovine cells. PHCECs and THCECs showed significant perpendicular orientation in EFs at 150 mV/mm in medium with serum, while at the same voltage, no significant orientation was found in serum free medium. PHCECs started to show perpendicular reorientation around 30 min after onset of EF at 150 mV/mm. They showed significant directional migration at 150 mV/mm, with directedness of 0.35 ± 0.07 and a migration rate of 9.1 ± 0.7 μm/h (n = 90), both significantly higher than that of cells in serum feee medium. Addition of EGF-induced significant reorientation and directional migration of THCECs at 100 mV/mm. Additionally, as for BCECs, which remained viable and responsive to electric fields for at least 75 h at 150 mV/mm, THCECs also remained viable and showed responsiveness during long periods of exposure to EFs (at least 20 h). Conclusions. Cultured human primary CECs and a human corneal epithelial cell line both responded to small EFs with perpendicular reorientation and cathodally-directed migration. Cell responses were qualitatively similar to those reported previously for bovine CECs. The endogenous EFs generated by wounded cornea may play an important role in promoting cell shape changes and directed migration of CECs during the healing process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-984
Number of pages12
JournalCurrent Eye Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell elongation
  • Cell migration
  • Cell orientation
  • Electric fields
  • Growth factors
  • Human corneal epithelium
  • Serum
  • Wound healing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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