Endogenous electric fields (EF) have long been known to influence cell behaviour during development, neural cell tropism, wound healing and cell behaviour generally. The effect is based on short circuiting of electrical potential differences across cell and tissue boundaries generated by ionic segregation. Recent in vitro and in vivo studies have shown that EF regulate not only cell movement but orientation of cells during mitosis, an effect which may underlie shaping of tissues and organs. The molecular basis of this effect is founded on receptor-mediated cell signalling events and alterations in cytoskeletal function as revealed in studies of gene deficient cells. Remarkably, not all cells respond directionally to EF in the same way and this has consequences, for instance, for lens development and vascular remodelling. The physical basis of EF effect may be related to changes induced in 'bound water' at the cell surface, whose organisation in association with trans-membrane proteins (e.g. receptors) is disrupted when EF are generated.
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