Pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) treatments for chronic pain consist in the delivery of a train of sinusoidal electric bursts to the targeted nerve. Despite numerous clinical evidence of its efficiency, the mechanism of action of PRF remains unclear. Since most of the reported biological effects of PRF can be initiated by a calcium influx into the neurons, we hypothesized that PRF may induce a mild electroporation effect causing a calcium uptake. To test this hypothesis, HEK-293 cells were exposed to PRF bursts and cytosolic calcium and Yo-Pro-1 uptake were monitored. After a single burst, calcium peaks were observed for electric fields above 480 V/cm while the uptake of Yo-pro-1 was insignificant. After a train of 120 bursts, the electric fields required to induce a calcium and Yo-pro-1 uptake decreased to 330 V/cm and 880 V/cm respectively. Calcium peaks were not detected when cells were treated in calcium free media. The temperature increase during the treatments was lower than 5 °C in all cases. Finally, the cell response for different burst frequencies and extracellular media conductivities correlated with the induced transmembrane voltage calculated with a numerical model. Our results support the hypothesis of an electroporation mediated calcium influx.



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