Electroporation: theory and methods, perspectives for drug delivery, gene therapy and research


J. Gehl, Department of Oncology 54B1, Herlev Hospital in University of Copenhagen, Herlev Ringvej 75, 2730 Herlev, Denmark.


Electroporation designates the use of short high-voltage pulses to overcome the barrier of the cell membrane. By applying an external electric field, which just surpasses the capacitance of the cell membrane, transient and reversible breakdown of the membrane can be induced. This transient, permeabilized state can be used to load cells with a variety of different molecules, either through simple diffusion in the case of small molecules, or through electrophoretically driven processes allowing passage through the destabilized membrane – as is the case for DNA transfer. Initially developed for gene transfer, electroporation is now in use for delivery of a large variety of molecules: From ions to drugs, dyes, tracers, antibodies, and oligonucleotides to RNA and DNA. Electroporation has proven useful both in vitro, in vivo and in patients, where drug delivery to malignant tumours has been performed. Whereas initial electroporation procedures caused considerable cell damage, developments over the past decades have led to sophistication of equipment and optimization of protocols. The electroporation procedures used in many laboratories could be optimized with limited effort. This review (i) outlines the theory of electroporation, (ii) discusses factors of importance for optimization of electroporation protocols for mammalian cells, (iii) addresses particular concerns when using electroporation in vivo, e.g. effects on blood flow and considerations regarding choice of electrodes, (iv) describes DNA electrotransfer with emphasis on use in the in vivo setting, and (v) sums up data on safety and efficacy of electroporation used to enhance delivery of chemotherapy to tumours in cancer patients.