Stem Cell Reviews and Reports

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 231-246

First online:

Role of Membrane Potential in the Regulation of Cell Proliferation and Differentiation

  • Sarah SundelacruzAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University
  • , Michael LevinAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Tufts University
  • , David L. KaplanAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University Email author 

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Biophysical signaling, an integral regulator of long-term cell behavior in both excitable and non-excitable cell types, offers enormous potential for modulation of important cell functions. Of particular interest to current regenerative medicine efforts, we review several examples that support the functional role of transmembrane potential (Vmem) in the regulation of proliferation and differentiation. Interestingly, distinct Vmem controls are found in many cancer cell and precursor cell systems, which are known for their proliferative and differentiation capacities, respectively. Collectively, the data demonstrate that bioelectric properties can serve as markers for cell characterization and can control cell mitotic activity, cell cycle progression, and differentiation. The ability to control cell functions by modulating bioelectric properties such as Vmem would be an invaluable tool for directing stem cell behavior toward therapeutic goals. Biophysical properties of stem cells have only recently begun to be studied and are thus in need of further characterization. Understanding the molecular and mechanistic basis of biophysical regulation will point the way toward novel ways to rationally direct cell functions, allowing us to capitalize upon the potential of biophysical signaling for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.


Biophysical signaling Electrophysiology Membrane potential Proliferation Differentiation Stem cells