Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 902 (1987) 360-373

The electrical breakdown of cell and lipid membranes: The similarity of phenomenologies

L.V. Chernomordik, S.I. Sukharev, S.V. Popov, V.F. Pastushenko, A.V. Sokirko, I.G. Abidor and Y.A. Chizmadzhev

Institute of Electrochemistry, USSR Academy of Sciences. Leninsky prospect 31, 11 7071 Moscow (U. S. S. R.)

(Received 28 October 1986)

(Revised manuscript received 1 June 1987)

Key words: Cell membrane; Lipid bilayer; Patch clamp; Electrical breakdown; (Human erythrocyte); (Mouse L-cell)

The current responses of human erythrocyte and L-cell membranes being subject to rectangular voltage pulses of 150-700 mV amplitude and 5.10-3 duration were recorded by means of the patch-clamp method. The behaviour of planar lipid bilayer membranes of oxidized cholesterol and U022+ -modified bilayers of azolectin in a high electric field was investigated for comparison. The gradual growth in the conductance (reversible electrical breakdown) was found for both the cell membranes and lipid bilayers of the compositions studied, with the application of voltage pulses of sufficient duration, to be completed by its drastic enhancement (irreversible breakdown). The time interval preceding the irreversible breakdown and the rate of increase in conductance during the reversible breakdown are determined by the amplitude of the voltage applied. The recovery of the initial properties of the membrane following the reversible breakdown consists of the two stages, the latter substantially differing by their characteristic times. The first very rapid stage (τ<<1 ms) reflects the lowering of the conductance of small pores with decreasing voltage across the membrane. The diminishing of the number and mean radii of the pores resulting in their complete disappearance occurs only at the second stage of membrane healing, which lasts several seconds or even minutes. The phenomenological similarity of the cell and lipid membrane breakdown indicates that pores developed during the electrical breakdown of biological membranes arise in their lipid matrices. The structure and the properties of the pores are discussed.