Electrooptical and conductometrical relaxation methods have given a new insight in the molecular mechanisms of the electroporative delivery of drug-like dyes and genes (DNA) to cells and tissues. Key findings are: (1) Membrane electroporation (ME) and hence the electroporative transmembrane transport of macromolecules are facilitated by a higher curvature of the membrane as well as by a gradient of the ionic strength across charged membranes, affecting the spontaneous curvature. (2) The degree of pore formation as the primary field response increases continuously without a threshold field strength, whereas secondary phenomena, such as a dramatic increase in the membrane permeability to drug-like dyes and DNA (also called electropermeabilization), indicate threshold field strength ranges. (3) The transfer of DNA by ME requires surface adsorption and surface insertion of the permeant molecule or part of it. The diffusion coefficient for the translocation of DNA (M(r)~3.5x106) through the electroporated membrane is D(m)=6.7x10-13cm2s-1and D(m) for the drug-like dye Serva Blue G (M(r)~854) is D(m)=2.0x10-12cm2s-1. The slow electroporative transport of both DNA and drugs across the electroporated membrane reflects highly interactive (electro-) diffusion, involving many small pores coalesced into large, but transiently occluded pores (DNA). The data on mouse B-cells and yeast cells provide directly the flow and permeability coefficients of Serva blue G and plasmid DNA at different electroporation protocols. The physico-chemical theory of ME and electroporative transport in terms of time-dependent flow coefficients has been developed to such a degree that analytical expressions are available to handle curvature and ionic strength effects on ME and transport. The theory presents further useful tools for the optimization of the ME techniques in biotechnology and medicine, in particular in the new field of electroporative delivery of drugs (electrochemotherapy) and of DNA transfer and gene therapy. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science S.A.
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