Abstract Image

Exogenous high-voltage pulses increase cell membrane permeability through a phenomenon known as electroporation. This process may also disrupt the cell cytoskeleton causing changes in cell contractility; however, the contractile signature of cell force after electroporation remains unknown. Here, single-cell forces post-electroporation are measured using suspended extracellular matrix-mimicking nanofibers that act as force sensors. Ten, 100 μs pulses are delivered at three voltage magnitudes (500, 1000, and 1500 V) and two directions (parallel and perpendicular to cell orientation), exposing glioblastoma cells to electric fields between 441 V cm–1 and 1366 V cm–1. Cytoskeletal-driven force loss and recovery post-electroporation involves three distinct stages. Low electric field magnitudes do not cause disruption, but higher fields nearly eliminate contractility 2–10 min post-electroporation as cells round following calcium-mediated retraction (stage 1). Following rounding, a majority of analyzed cells enter an unusual and unexpected biphasic stage (stage 2) characterized by increased contractility tens of minutes post-electroporation, followed by force relaxation. The biphasic stage is concurrent with actin disruption-driven blebbing. Finally, cells elongate and regain their pre-electroporation morphology and contractility in 1–3 h (stage 3). With increasing voltages applied perpendicular to cell orientation, we observe a significant drop in cell viability. Experiments with multiple healthy and cancerous cell lines demonstrate that contractile force is a more dynamic and sensitive metric than cell shape to electroporation. A mechanobiological understanding of cell contractility post-electroporation will deepen our understanding of the mechanisms that drive recovery and may have implications for molecular medicine, genetic engineering, and cellular biophysics.

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