The Interplay of Electric Potential and Morphology of Biomembranes

Project: Research project

Project Details


An electric potential difference across the plasma membrane is common to all living cells and is crucial
for the generation of action potentials for cell-to-cell communication. Beyond excitable nerve and muscle,
bioelectric signals conjugated with the transmembrane potential control many cell behaviors such as
migration, orientation, and proliferation, which play crucial role in embryogenesis, would healing, and
cancer progression. The mechanisms of cellular responses to electric stimuli are virtually unknown. An
electricity-centered view, epitomized by the Hodgkin-Huxley model, focuses on the voltage-dependent
ion channels. However, in recent years membrane mechanics is emerging as a potentially important
player: membrane deformations are detected to co-propagate with action potentials, several ion channels
have been found to be both voltage-gated and mechanosensitive, and lipid rafts have been implicated as
electrosensors. Assessment of the relevance of these membrane-related effects in bioelectric phenomena
requires fundamental understanding of the coupling between membrane morphology, stresses, and
voltage, which is limited. To fill this void, we propose a combined theoretical and experimental study of
biomimetic membranes with transmembrane potential induced by an externally applied electric fields.
Specifically, the proposed research seeks to determine how membrane electric potential elicits membrane
responses such as stretching or compression, curvature, and phase transitions, and vice versa, how
changes in the membrane morphology modulate the transmembrane potential.
Effective start/end date9/5/208/31/24


  • National Institute of General Medical Sciences (5R01GM140461-02)


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