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Electrical dimensions in cell science
Colin D. McCaig, Bing Song, Ann M. Rajnicek


Cells undergo a variety of physiological processes, including division, migration and differentiation, under the influence of endogenous electrical cues, which are generated physiologically and pathologically in the extracellular and sometimes intracellular spaces. These signals are transduced to regulate cell behaviours profoundly, both in vitro and in vivo. Bioelectricity influences cellular processes as fundamental as control of the cell cycle, cell proliferation, cancer-cell migration, electrical signalling in the adult brain, embryonic neuronal cell migration, axon outgrowth, spinal-cord repair, epithelial wound repair, tissue regeneration and establishment of left-right body asymmetry. In addition to direct effects on cells, electrical gradients interact with coexisting extracellular chemical gradients. Indeed, cells can integrate and respond to electrical and chemical cues in combination. This Commentary details how electrical signals control multiple cell behaviours and argues that study of the interplay between combined electrical and chemical gradients is underdeveloped yet necessary.


  • We thank the Wellcome Trust and the MRC for support. We also acknowledge support (C.D.M. and A.M.R.) from a European Commission Framework 6 New and Emerging Science and Technology grant, Contract 028473.

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